Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Geekerella – Ashley Poston Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book was surprisingly good! I wasn’t expecting this book to make me feel as much as I did whilst reading it. I naively assumed that this book would be lighthearted – perhaps to the point of lacking substance – a bit of fun, but without much impact. Man, was I wrong. Of all the books that I would guess would make me start crying, it wasn’t Geekerella, but the characters and the story are so easy to delve into and get attached to.

Geekerella is, as you can probably tell by the title, a Cinderella retelling. I don’t mean this in the way that you often hear YA fantasies call themselves fantasy retellings whilst changing the story altogether, I mean it is literally a Cinderella retelling. Right down to a pumpkin carriage – albeit, a pumpkin food truck. Since her father’s death, Elle has been living a miserable life with her stepmother Catherine and her step-twin-sisters Cal and Chloe. All that she has left to hold onto is Starfield, the sci-fi television show that her father introduced her to as a child. She knows everything that there is to know about it, and runs her own little blog dedicated to it. When she sees a cosplay contest at this year’s ExcelsiCon, she knows that the prize money is exactly what she needs to get out from under her stepmother’s thumb and make her own way in the world. All she needs is to find a costume. Meanwhile, Darien Freeman, teen superstar actor, has been cast in the lead role, and is struggling with fan expectations. He has always loved Starfield, but being a nerd doesn’t quite fit with his image, and Starfield’s hard core fanbase are ripping into him, so judging this years’ cosplay competition is the last thing that he wants to do. Both Elle and Darien struggle in their respective worlds, only finding solace in the text messages that they swap with a mysterious stranger, as obsessed with Starfield as they are.

The characters in this novel had depth and detail, they were interesting and had their own struggles and storylines even apart from the romantic one. Elle’s friendship with Sage, her relationships with her sisters and step-mother, were all important. So was Darien’s struggle with his job and relationships. Apart from this, Starfield itself was also incredibly well-developed, which, for a novel which explores fandom so much, was vital to the characters feeling real. Although Starfield is a made-up television show, I found it easy to relate to how much the characters love the stories and the characters, their passion for it, and how much they care about the remake. I also liked how Starfield was the background against which the characters’ personal struggles play out against, because it meant that we understood their motivations and feelings. For Elle, Starfield is at the heart of all her memories of her parents, which explains not only why she cares so much about the remake but also why she is so desperate to win the cosplay competition – to make her parents proud. For Darien, his internal struggles with confidence are made clear in his playing the lead role in Starfield. He doesn’t believe that he is good enough to play his favourite character, and he finds it difficult to be surrounded by actors who don’t care about the show in the same way that he does. The characters, the story, and the show Starfield itself, were equally important in making Geekerella as good as it was, because they all bounced off each other to create a really moving and fun story.

I also loved how much this novel is inspired by Cinderella. Of course, there was still so much original content to this book, but it was fun to spot the comparisons. For example, instead of a pumpkin becoming a carriage, the pumpkin themed vegan food truck that Elle works at it her carriage, and her fairy godmother is her colleague Sage, who helps her to make her costume and encourages her to keep fighting for what she believes in. It was also nice to see more development to the characters, like in Darien and Elle’s own storylines, and also in the minor characters. Catherine, the evil stepmother, and the sisters Cal and Chloe were nuanced characters, and I especially looked forward to the scenes with Catherine where she showed a bit more of her human side, and the redemption arc for Cal. All of the references to the fairytale were interesting to find and made reading Geekerella even more fun to read.

Overall, Geekerella was a really enjoyable book and I sincerely regret leaving it unread for so long. The story is sweet and simple, with nuanced and interesting characters, and told in a fun way. Definitely give this book a chance, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s quite your type. You might find, like me, that you judged it too early.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index – Julie Israel Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

Juniper Lemon’s sister Camilla died two months ago, but the Happiness Index that they began together, where Juniper notes down all the positive things that have happened to her, helps her feel closer to her. When one of her cards go missing, one that holds a dark secret about the night Camilla died, it is as though Juniper’s life has lost all semblance of balance once again, and to make things worse, she discovers a secret love letter from her sister to an unknown lover. Juniper sets out on a desperate journey to find her lost index card and deliver her sister’s letter, one that brings new friends, more secrets, and possibly even the ability to find peace with herself.

There was nothing wrong with this novel, but it just didn’t hit the spot. Usually, stories about relatives dying set me off on a path of helpless sobbing, but for some reason this book didn’t have that emotional power with me. I think that one reason for this was that the plot felt a little disjointed. For example, Juniper makes various friends throughout the course of the novel, and although I did enjoy some of their scenes, sometimes it felt like their storylines were diverting attention from the main story, whilst not being strong enough to justify it. Her new friends were fun to read at times, with wit and jokes, but with the exception of Brand, they were pretty flat and felt irrelevant, and frankly, I didn’t really care about them. It felt like the story about Juniper’s grief and recovery was not only being left on a back burner but being completely forgotten at some points. On the other hand, I did really enjoy Juniper and Brand’s relationship. I am a sucker for bad boys who are actually not that bad, and Brand falls right into that category of a bad boy that is actually a softie. Their relationship felt sincere and loving, even if it did feel like it deepened a bit too quickly once it began.

What really weakened this novel though, was the completely unsatisfactory ending. Now, beware, because this next paragraph will be spoilery, so read at your own risk!

Here we go. The ending. Not only were there loose ends, but the story was left completely wide open, unfinished, and fraying at the edges. The mystery of the identity of Camilla’s lover was the driver of the entire plot, and after an entire book with Juniper hunting for clues, and us going along with her, at the end, we are simply not told. It felt like a betrayal to lead me along on a goose chase for answers only for the mystery to be left completely unanswered. I don’t care if Juniper moved on and saw her duty to her sister has been dispatched, I don’t care if she only cared about delivering the letter and not about finding out who the mystery person was, I WANT TO KNOW. I HAVE THEORIES. I HAVE SUSPICIONS. I DESERVE TO KNOW. Honestly, endings like this don’t feel emotional or poignant, they just feel like the author couldn’t figure out how to end their book. If a mystery is going be at the heart of your story, you should answer the mystery. Don’t make me turn on my detective brain only to not answer my questions.

So, this book was neither here nor there. I would have given this book 2 stars instead of 3, but the reality is that for the most part, this book wasn’t boring and it wasn’t bad. It was a little disjointed in tone, and the plot was disappointing, but mainly it was the ending that ruined it for me. Yes, I feel disappointed and misled by the book, but there were positives and until I began to suspect that the ending would disappoint, I was enjoying reading this book.

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Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

The Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman Review

 

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Rating:★★★★★

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now after stumbling upon it on Goodreads, and it did not disappoint. It had a little bit of everything that I love the most. Historical setting, magic, romance, lively lead character. It was all there. There was honestly nothing about this book that didn’t impress me, and it actually far exceeded my expectations.

The Dark Days Club is the first instalment of the Lady Helen series which follows Helen Wrexhall as she navigates both high society in Regency England and a newfound underworld of demonic creatures that threatens everything she knows. Helen has been raised to be every part the lady so that she can marry well and escape the stain on her reputation left by her mother, who was a traitor. However, at the same time that she is introduced to society, she is also introduced to the Dark Days Cub, led by the dark and dangerous Lord Carlston, who tells her that she, like her mother, is a Reclaimer, with powers that can help to protect thousands of human lives. Helen tries to navigate both of these worlds simultaneously, trying to keep them from clashing, but when the time comes, she may have to pick one over the other.

This book surprised me in so many ways. I loved how fresh the whole novel felt, it was like nothing I had read before. I found Alison Goodman’s writing to be refreshing in that it was told from a third person perspective with quite a lot of detail and description but never felt boring or dense, and made the story as a whole come to life. The fantasy world that she has created is imaginative and well-crafted, and I loved all of the detail that she included, from the superhuman abilities of a Reclaimer, to the rules that they must follow, to the effect that this has on them. I loved the concept of the Deceiver monsters living alongside normal society, invisible to normal eyes, feeding on different aspects of the human spirit. This was all elevated by the Regency setting. I haven’t read any darker Regency novels, because it is typically associated so strongly with romance, and so I loved to see these two worlds collide. On the one hand, Helen is a lady in London society. She is going to parties and balls, and she catches the eye of a Duke. On the other hand, she is also part of this entirely different world.

The Dark Days Club has many interesting characters. Some favourites were Darby, Helen’s maid, and Lord Carlston, your typical dark, brooding hero with a secret. However, the character that really made this whole novel was Lady Helen herself. She is smart and witty, but not annoyingly so. I never tired of her humour and she never felt like a caricature. You really get to know her and understand her, and the choices that she faces. Sometimes I feel like authors take for granted that we will understand the societies that their characters are growing up in, but Goodman makes it really clear that Helen is none the weaker for being raised to be a traditional lady, for considering a safe and stable life of being married to a wealthy man, or for changing her outfit multiple times a day. She really brings to life the world that Helen lives in and this makes it easier to understand the decisions that she makes and the personal challenges that she faces. I also really enjoyed the fact that Helen has agency of her own throughout the story. Rather than being forced into being a Reclaimer, she consciously takes steps to learn more about the world that she has discovered, and she has a real choice. If she wants, she can leave the Dark Days Club behind and return to a normal life, abandoning her powers and responsibilities. This makes you respect her even more, and makes me doubly excited to read the next part of her story.

Now, I have to stop this review before I end up babbling on and boring you all. I’ve already had to force myself to cut out waffle, spoilers, and in-depth discussions of characters and plot points from this review. So, let’s just conclude this review with a repeated statement from me that The Dark Days Club is everything that I have been looking for in YA fantasy fiction. It has realistic, multi-faceted characters, a new and creative fantasy world, and a wonderful historical setting.

 

 

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★

I was so certain that I was going to love this book – after all, I adored All the Bright Places (also by Jennifer Neven) and heard a lot of hype around this title when it was released last year. However, this book was such a disappointment. The characters were one-dimensional, the story felt contrived, and I just couldn’t get into the story.

Much like All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe includes two teenage protagonists, each with their own ‘issue’. Here, Libby Strout is returning to school after years of battling with weight problems, which were so bad that she had to be rescued from her house with a crane and was dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She is hoping to not only be a normal teenager again but also to pursue her dream of dancing. Meanwhile, Jack Masselin’s cool, popular, and slightly mean persona hides a secret – Jack has prosopagnosia, which means he can’t remember or recognise faces. He forgets a face the minute he turns away from it, meaning he can’t even recognise his own family.

I myself don’t quite understand where this novel went wrong, except that it all felt a little too formulaic, like Niven had followed a recipe for a good, angsty YA romance. Both protagonists have their unique traits, a goal, a secret and/or a tragedy. They meet and initially do not see eye to eye, but after being thrown together, they see past the mask that the other has put up to come to love the person underneath. Whilst they help each other in pursuing some goal, they also pursue goals independently, and so grow as people as well as as a couple. My issue was these characteristics all felt too pragmatic, like they were just there because Niven needed something to make her characters stand out, but the characters didn’t seem well developed outside of these traits. Libby is defined by her mother’s death, her weight, and her dancing, just as Jack is defined by his secret illness, his douche-y personality, and his goal of building a robot for his younger brother. They had friends outside of each other, and they had family members with their own problems, but these were all one-dimensional too. Jack’s girlfriend is just a cookie-cutter high school bitch, and I can’t even remember if Libby had one, two, or three friends because they were all basically just background characters that I couldn’t distinguish from each other. To make matters worse, the story’s development fell into huge cliches, like the characters happening to show up at the same party even though they operate in completely different circles, or like Libby’s being the only face that Jack can recognise (I almost choked).

I quickly grew disillusioned with this book because I could see from the beginning that this recipe for an angsty teen romance was being followed, and it felt like every other angsty teen romance where the characters are battling something feels. I kept pushing through in the hopes that something would happen that would perhaps change everything, a huge plot twist maybe, but nothing came. The characters that I met in the beginning were basically the same, and none of the problems that they faced felt that significant compared to what the characters had gone through before the story began. For example, the bullying that Libby faces is horrible, but compared to what we had been told she had already gone through (bullying on a national scale) and how she had gone on national television to defend herself, it didn’t feel like a big enough deal to drive the story. The ‘problem’ that the pair face as a couple is so negligible I couldn’t really understand why it was a thing, and I can’t even remember whether Jack faced any new problems that weren’t set out from the moment we met him, those being his prosopagnosia and his family situation.

Overall, this book was so disappointing for me. I expected so much more, but the characters were flat and didn’t come to life in the way that I saw Niven’s characters come to life in All the Bright Places, and the story was, frankly, bland. I always try to write as balanced reviews as possible, but this book just felt too run-of-the-mill and cliche for my liking.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies – Glenn Song Review

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Rating: ★★

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

I was excited to read this for various reasons: it’s steampunk, includes two women grasping at the opportunity to attend university, and it’s the first book in a series. I was intrigued by the short length of this book and at just over 100 pages I was looking for a novella, but in fact, A Tale of Two Ladies felt more like the opening of a full-length novel than a story in itself, which is the reason for the low rating in this case.

Alicia and Elena are from very different worlds. Alicia is a country farm girl who has dreamed of flying since childhood. Elena is a noblewoman who loved mathematics but is being pushed into marriage by her traditional mother. When the kingdom goes to war, the university in the capital city of Aeterall opens its doors to women for the first time, and these two women both jump at the chance to chase their dreams. This story follows their journey to becoming students at the university, from filling in their applications to meeting briefly at the university’s entrance tests and interviews. I understand from the description that this is a serial, but personally, for me, there was not enough of a story arc in this book. I think that the first part of a series in particular should always have a self-contained story to it as well as being the beginning to an overarching story so that people can enjoy the book in and of itself, but this was just an opening to a larger story.

Apart from the flaws with the plot in this book, I really liked other aspects of this story, and definitely think that if it had been the opening to a full-length novel I would have kept reading. I was getting strong Anne of Green Gables vibes from Alicia’s character, who loves her family and seems to live partly in her dreams of flying. I also enjoyed Elena’s rebellious streak and her resistance to her mother’s choice of husband – there was also a moment with a biscuit that made me laugh out loud. The story in general, with two women from different walks of life meeting and clashing at university, also reminded me of Wicked, which I enjoyed. I liked how the two women clashed somewhat, but there was still a hint at a future relationship. However, I did have some issues with the character development, especially for Elena. She seemed smart and funny in the first half of the novel, but at the university she was suddenly socially awkward and incapable of verbal communication, which felt odd. I would have liked some more consistency here.

I definitely feel like Glenn Song has all of the ingredients for something really fun and exciting – the world-building was good, the steampunk concept was intriguing, and the characters are easy to get behind in their respective goals. With some tweaking, I think that this could be a great opening to a really interesting novel, but on its own, The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies just doesn’t stand up all that well.

Book Reviews, Historical

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Steadman Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

This book did so much to my emotions while I read it that I barely know where to start with this review! The Light Between Oceans is such a moving, riveting, and tragic story about people making the wrong choice, for the right reasons, and making the right choice even though it will hurt someone. It will push you to question what you would do in the characters’ positions, and although it might seem simple from the outside, it will make you root for each character in turn so that you just don’t know anymore.

Tom Sherbourne has returned to Australia after serving as a soldier in the Great War, and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a solitary, harsh island. He marries the young, bold Isabel and brings her home with him, where they set about building their life together. They are happy to begin with, but miscarriages and stillbirths mar their joy. Then, one day, a boat washes up on the shore, and inside it is a man – dead – and a baby girl. Tom should report it, but Isabel has fallen in love with the little girl, and she has suffered so much. However, it is easier to live with this choice on the solitary island than it is on the homeland. When Tom and Isabel return to the mainland with the baby, named Lucy, Tom hears about a local woman who lost her husband and baby daughter at sea. Faced with the truth, he must decide what to do, knowing that whatever he decides to do, somebody will suffer.

My favourite thing about this novel was the writing. Steadman’s prose is absolutely beautiful, almost poetic to read. I would happily read page after page of Steadman’s writing. Every word helps you to get into the characters’ mindsets. She expertly describes life of Janus Rock, the characters’ relationships, their daily lives, and it is the atmosphere that she creates of a sort of grey, dreary and lonesome island that allows the story and emotional turmoil of the characters to stand out. I felt that this high quality of writing was really important for me to connect with the characters and enjoy the novel, as the actual story itself is quite harrowing. Not only is it sad, but it’s filled with characters making decisions that are morally questionable – to say the least. If the writing had been more simplistic, I think that many of these situations would have felt too clear-cut, and because I wouldn’t have related to the characters, I wouldn’t have felt challenged by their choices, and the story would have just felt like heartbreak and bad decision after heartbreak and bad decision.

I have read some criticisms of this book where people are argued that it is too sad or that they can’t stand the characters’ decisions, but I felt like Steadman’s writing made it possible for me to inhabit both Tom and Isabel’s minds, see what they were going through, and understand that sometimes our minds can be clouded by emotion. At times, Tom is confident that he must return Lucy to her true mother, but he can’t face robbing his wife, who is his whole world, of her only joy. Meanwhile, when we meet Isabel has been worn down by the death of her own babies. She loves Lucy, she needs Lucy, and she sees herself as Lucy’s mother. We also see Lucy’s real mother, and her own sorrow. The true triumph of this book for me is that, just as Tom didn’t know what he should do, I didn’t either. It can be easy to criticise people and say ‘Why would you do X when Y is clearly the best choice?’ but in this book, I really felt for all the characters. I was heartbroken for all of the characters. I wanted them all to get their happy ending.

This isn’t a novel with a dramatic, fast-paced plot, but rather the action lies in the emotion. This was fine with me, I love exploring people’s inner lives, their choices, morals, choices. As I’ve said, Steadman’s writing made this book really stand out to me, but others who maybe prefer more plot over emotion might find this book a little boring. What I did like about the plot is that this isn’t a novel that is littered with secondary plots, with random events that distract you from the main storyline, and pointless characters. The story says firmly fixed on the main story – Lucy. Personally, I loved that. The author chose a topic, stuck with it, and delivered. I never felt confused or weighed down by rambling narrative because the subject of the passage is simple – Lucy, Isabel, Tom. So, even if you maybe prefer a plot that develops quickly, that isn’t to say that this book isn’t for you.

 

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★

The Versions of Us wasn’t like any other novels I had read before. The story is that of Eva and Jim’s lives, from their days at Cambridge University, but it isn’t just the one story. This book tells you three parallel stories, all starting from the same day when Eva and Jim first cross paths. Reading this was unlike any other reading experience, and the book really makes you think about all of the different possible routes that your life could take, even if it was a bit confusing at times.

The three stories in this novel start at the same place. Jim is walking through Cambridge, Eva is cycling through. She swerves and loses her balance. In one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love, in another, they miss each other and go on in their separate paths, and the third is an unlucky mix of the two. Each of the three stories shows Eva and Jim’s lives after that initial moment. They marry; they live happily; they break up; they have children; they marry other people; they become successful; they fail to achieve their dreams; they suffer tragedies; they travel the world. This novel is an exploration of life, of missed chances, of fate, and of love. Can two people be ‘meant for each other’? Is it possible that you will somehow find your way to the person you are supposed to be with? Or is everything just a result of your choices, and of things that weren’t your choice to make?

the-versions-of-usThe stories themselves are not extraordinary. These are the lives of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, but that is what makes this novel so wonderful. It really made me think about all of the little choices you make everyday. Just as in one story, Eva suffers a punctured tire that Jim helps her to fix, but in another, misses the nail completely and keeps cycling past, it makes you think, what if I had gotten an earlier train this morning, or crossed the road one block later? The fact that the lives are so realistic means that you can relate to the stories. At times, it felt a bit like I was just reading about ordinary events and it was almost too real, like there was no escapism or excitement in the novel, especially in the parts where the characters are stuck in pretty awful situations or tough parts of their lives, but this really was a book of ups and downs, trumps and losses.

I felt so many emotions reading this book. I felt excitement at the things that were happening in Eva and Jim’s (and everyone else’s) lives, I felt anger at their choices, frustration and the things they couldn’t help, pity for the things that happened to them. I loved that none of the three stories can be described as ‘the happy story’ or ‘the one where everything goes wrong.’ In each story, Eva and Jim are thrown together, pulled apart, and it means that, although you’re hoping that they make the choices that you want them to make, you’re also stuck with this feeling of hopelessness when you realise that there are some things in life that you can’t control.

At times, particularly as the stories develop and grow more and more complex, with more and more characters and events to remember, The Versions of Us can be quite confusing. There were times when I would have to flick back to remember which of the stories I was reading, but I found this to only be a small issue. I enjoyed reading the stories and finding out what would happen next way too much to let it bother me too much. You might have to push through some parts of the book that are perhaps more challenging to understand, or bits that just dampen the mood, but if you finish, I’m sure you’ll find this book to be a rewarding and fun experience that really makes you think about life. Not only your life, but all the other possible lives that could be.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating: ★★★

I struggled quite a lot with coming to a conclusion about how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I liked that the characters felt real and different to the typical YA contemporary protagonist, but I also am not a big fan of novels that have romance as its main storyline and I didn’t feel like this book’s writing was enough to my tastes for me to be really swept away by it. I didn’t really feel that fuzzy warmth that you look to feel from a love story, but I enjoyed the characters’ families and their storylines.

Eleanor & Park is about the titular characters and their relationship. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother, siblings and her mother’s abusive husband, so she’s new to the school. To make things worse, she dresses all wrong, and she’s overweight (Rainbow Rowell wrote a really interesting comment piece on this here). Park is half-Korean, loves bands and comic books and lives with both parents and his brother in domestic bliss. While you can’t judge a book called Eleanor & Park for being predictable for focusing on the relationship between Eleanor and Park, I just felt like the actual development of the relationship was boring, and it wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I actually felt emotionally affected by the book. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do usually enjoy YA contemporaries enough to get past this. However, in this novel, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion in the writing and I didn’t once come away feeling butterflies in my stomach. It simply felt like I was reading two characters back and forth, reading their actions and speech, and the emotion behind the actions just wasn’t strong enough for me. While it was clear that this relationship was a sincere and sweet relationship, I just would have really loved to feel it more strongly.

On the other hand, I loved the strong role that each of the characters’ families play in the book. YA books often relegate parents to the background of characters’ storylines, which I personally find unrealistic – after all, I see my parents everyday, and I don’t understand how you could ever take me without my family. In this novel however, both families feature heavily, not only in providing context for the central relationship but actually contributing to the plot of the novel. I liked the contrast between the two families, as Park’s family is so loving compared to Eleanor’s. I also think that, while I didn’t think Rowell’s writing really succeeded in making me care a lot about the romance storyline, I did feel really strongly with regard to Eleanor’s home setting. It didn’t feel sensationalised in the way that abusive family dynamics can be made to feel in media, instead, Rowell made the tension in the household clear, even if there was no direct violence. There are scenes where Eleanor’s step-father isn’t even scene, and you can still feel his oppressive presence.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. I think that I would have loved the novel if the writing had been a bit more to my liking, perhaps less simple and conversational in tone and more descriptive about the characters’ emotions. This was a good book, but I just don’t think it was the right book for me, and sometimes that just happens. I know that other people love this book, so if you like YA contemporary, or sweet romances, definitely give this book a try and tell me what you think!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

One of Us Is Lying – Karen M. McManus Review

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Expected publication: May 30th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book blew me away. It didn’t want to put it down, and I wish it was possible to wipe my memory and start it from the beginning again, because there were so many intriguing mysteries, surprising plot twists, and shocking revelations.

One of Us Is Lying starts with five high school kids who all end up in detention after having been found with phones in class. Bronwyn is ‘the brain’, a straight-A student who is heading to Yale. Cooper is ‘the athlete’ and is already a bit of a baseball star, hoping to be scouted for a major league team. Addy is ‘the beauty’, with a perfect boyfriend and a whole gang of friends. Nate is ‘the criminal’, on probation for dealing drugs. And then there’s Simon, ‘the outcast’, hated throughout Bayview High for his school gossip app About That. Five students go into detention, but only four come out. Simon dies from an allergic reaction, and police believe that someone poisoned him, and it must have been one of the students in the room. They all had motive to kill Simon, but they all insist they’re innocent, so who is lying? Who killed Simon?

This book’s plot is a thrill, a rollercoaster ride. Each of the characters is harbouring their own secret that comes out over the course of the novel, and then more secrets, and more. It was as if the book was peeling away layers to the characters, which I loved. I also enjoyed that each of the four characters had their own chapters told in first person narrative. Although sometimes, multiple narrators can make books confusing, Karen McManus really did this well. We get to know the characters intimately, their fears, desires, and feelings, and I never felt like the book was spreading itself too thin among so many characters. I also liked how despite this first person narration, the secrets that are revealed still come as a surprise. We get hints from the characters, but McManus still keeps the big revelations back for maximum impact. It was told as if the characters were lying to themselves, which felt natural and honest, and you suspect each of them in turn several times, even though you do like them. Because they’ve lied to themselves already, you feel like you can’t even trust their own thoughts, and this mystery and suspense was refreshing to read in YA contemporary.

Apart from loving Karen McManus’s writing style, I loved each of her characters. I really appreciate that they are a diverse group – for one, Bronwyn is Colombian (which, being Colombian myself and not seeing Latinos represented in literature, made me so happy), and there are other things that come to light over the course of the novel (that I can’t reveal because of spoilers!). I also loved that, although they look like cliche high school characters at the beginning, they are very intricate and complex characters. My favourite was Addy, who is literally described as a doormat, but who undergoes a real change over the course of the novel’s events. Even before she undergoes these changes, I still enjoyed seeing a female character not be represented as a ‘strong female character’, but the complete opposite. Yes, Addy was weak, but it was addressed as a part of her character and recognised, and her character development was inspiring and made me root for her. I also loved Cooper’s storyline, and generally the overarching theme of the characters not being just their stereotype, but being able to come together to help each other out.

Although this is a murder mystery and a high school drama, this is also a novel about friendship and the normal problems that teenagers face growing up, accepting themselves for who they are and figuring themselves out. The plot was exciting, and the characters were so easy to love. It might only be March, but I’m pretty sure that this will be one of my favourite reads of 2017.

For fans of: We Were Liars – E. Lockhart