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

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I love fast-paced fantasy, unique magical worlds, female-led stories and friendships, so it’s no surprise to me that I absolutely loved Truthwitch! I had been waiting for months to read this book, for two reasons. First of all, my huge hardback edition is far too large to carry to and from school everyday. Secondly, I wanted to give it all of my attention, and I have no regrets (except perhaps that I should have given my full attention to my exam next week but never mind that).

The novel follows Safiya and Iseult, two witches who are trying to make a life for themselves. Safi is a Truthwitch, meaning that she can tell when someone is telling the truth, a power for which she would be hunted, so she keeps it a secret from all but those closest to her. Iseult is a Threadwitch, meaning that she can see their emotions in coloured strands that stem from them, and who these threads ‘tie’ them. The pair are Threadsisters, and when a brewing war threatens all that they hold dear – each other – they have to fight for their bond.

Safi and Iseult are both fantastic protagonists that come to life on the page and their friendship is the fire that keeps them going and that makes the story so interesting. They are lifelike, detailed and complex characters, each with their own stories, backgrounds, personalities and struggles. I loved that each character had their individual plot points, diverting for parts of the book and then rejoining, because it meant that we got to see the characters as independent women as well as a team, and understand the strength of their bond, as well as their individual motivations. This friendship was at the core of why I loved this book so much, as their friendship was so unmovable and strong that it survives all sorts of threats and dangers. Safi and Iseult are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, and they never give up on each other, which I loved.

I also loved Susan Dennard’s magic system and all of the different witcheries. This isn’t a book where you get bogged down by details and information, and lose track of the story while trying to get to grips with the world. She makes it easy and interesting to understand, and the information that she feeds you weaves into the story so you don’t get distracted. It is so expertly crafted that it never feels forced, but rather each witchery seems to make perfect sense. I loved how despite the witches having immense powers in their fields, whether it be manipulating blood or wind or fire, their powers still had clear limitations. For example, some witches can control the air that people breathe, while others can only control the air around them in the world. Some water healers can heal by manipulating the liquids in people’s body, whilst tidewitches control the waters in the sea. It was such a diverse and complex system, but beautifully designed and wonderful to delve into. I can’t wait to see what other witcheries come up in the rest of the series, and what other aspects of the Witchlands’s history and world Susan Dennard will expose us to.

I definitely give this book 5 stars and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. If you haven’t read it and you love fantasy novels, I could not recommend this to you more. Now excuse me, I need to order my copy of the sequel!

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Goodbye, Perfect – Sara Barnard

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Rating: ★★★★★

Eden and her best friend Bonnie are inseparable, and Eden knows that she can rely on Bonnie for anything. After all, Bonnie is pretty near perfect. However, when Bonnie runs away with a new mysterious boyfriend and it is revealed that this new boyfriend is no-one other than their music teacher, Mr Cohn, Eden has to face up to the fact that she didn’t know her friend as well as she did. Further, when a nationwide police search begins, Eden is forced to question her unfaltering loyalty to her friend.

Sara Barnard took on a really challenging topic in tackling the relationship between Bonnie and her teacher, Mr Cohn. It is a story that I have seen play out in the news multiple times, and it would have been easy for her to take a very sensationalist approach, or on the other hand, an approach that attempted to justify the relationship. Instead, she took another stance altogether and looked at the relationship through Eden’s eyes. Eden struggles throughout the book with the realisation that her friend kept a major secret from her, but also values loyalty more than anything and believes it is her duty to trust her friend when she tells her not to tell anyone where she is. Although I didn’t always like her actions, I understood Eden and her thought processes, and through reading Eden’s thoughts on Bonnie and Mr Cohn, we see her go through the different perspectives on the relationship, and come to her own conclusion by the end of the book.

I loved that female friendship took centre place in this book, and what happens when a friendship is challenged by the actions of one party. Through Eden’s difficulties in coming to terms with everything that is happening, we get to see so much of her character and personality. Her loyalty is a stand-out characteristic, and although it leads her to make not-great decisions (in my point of view), it is something that you can also admire. The journey that the friendship takes, as well as Eden’s relationships with her boyfriend, Connor, and her family, were all fascinating to read. They all had ups and downs, and every single character felt multifaceted and fleshed out to me.

Sara Barnard’s writing really helps to bring all of this to the forefront as well. It is deceptively simple, with little to no flowery language, but rather she lets the characters, their actions and thoughts speak for themselves. This book is easy to read, but not an ‘easy’ book. It challenges you with every page, and the storylines and the characters keep you hooked from start to finish.

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

My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner Review

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Rating: ★★★

I went into this book completely blind, having been sent it a few months ago by the publisher. This isn’t a book I would typically pick up, but it did impress me. It also confused me a bit, as I couldn’t quite figure out the genre or the age of the intended audience. I wish it had been a little bit longer with some more exploration of some of the characters, but the short length was also part of its appeal.

The main narrator of the book is Jazmin, who has been shunned by everyone since the disappearance of her best friend Becky, who jumped off of a tall building, but never landed. Jazmin told people what happened, but nobody believed her, and now, she is telling her story again. Other narrators also tell their story, in separate but linked tales that eventually interweave in order to tell us what really happened to Becky when she jumped off that building. It’s a slow-burn drama, but mystery is enough to keep you hooked, and the narrators’ voices are strong and clear.

I really liked the narrative style of this. It is told in a second person narrative by various people who are being interviewed about their experiences. They tell the events of the story as they unfolded in their perspective. This means that you don’t have the same reading experience as you would in another novel, where you might feel like the events are happening to you. It isn’t really possible to disappear into the story, so to speak, because at no point does it stop feeling like you are just reading about it, rather than living it. If the book was longer, this might have ended up bothering me, but for its short length that meant I finished it in two days, I didn’t mind this.

Although it wasn’t completely clear from the blurb or even the first few chapters, this book is science fiction. Aliens are mentioned pretty early on, but for a big chunk of the book I couldn’t figure out if the characters were mad or not. This made reading it a bit strange. Also, the age range of this book wasn’t clear either. I was sure from the cover art and the simple style of the narrative that this was a children’s or young adult book, but the narrators are all adults, so I’m not so sure. If you prefer your genre fiction to have very strong elements of that genre, this might not be for you, but otherwise, I enjoyed the mystery and gentle unfolding of the truth.

Whilst the short length worked well in some respects, I think that the book failed to explore some elements of the story. For example, the characters themselves were not very well developed, and many of them simply felt like they were there to push the plot without their identities really being clear. This was especially confusing when they all resulted to be relatives or friends of each other in some way, because I couldn’t tell one apart from the other in order to remember their significance. The romantic storylines also felt forced and very shallow, as the characters seem to fall in love out of nowhere, with no real reasons for their attraction or development in their relationship. This was a major flaw for me as Gardner tried to make love a central theme of the book.

Overall, there were strong and weak points in My Side of the Diamond. I liked the style of narrating, especially the parts where the second-person perspective was clear, and I liked that the book was short. However, I would have preferred for there to have been more character exploration. There were sections of the story that, in my opinion, could have been sacrificed for more character development, or the book could have been a little bit longer to make room for that.

Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but sometimes there are books that I just have to read. This was one of them. I love shopping for books in the used books stores on Charing Cross Road, and when I discovered there was a book on the same subject, I was instantly in love. This book was even more enjoyable than I expected, I am happy to report, and a brilliant sweet, short read.

Helene Hanff was a struggling writer in New York who loved to buy second hand books. Wanting to get the best value for money, she wrote all the way to London’s Marks & Co bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road to have her books delivered to place her orders. Over the course of 20 years, she struck up a friendship with many of the shop’s staff, but mainly with Frank Doel, a bookseller who took personal responsibility for her orders, and even with his family. Although she never had the opportunity to meet Frank in person, or even to see the bookshop – Frank having died, and the shop having closed by the time she managed to visit London – this makes the letters between them even more moving to read, and especially in this day and age, it was really touching to see how such long lasting relationships could grow across oceans, through the medium of letters. My own copy was followed by the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury, Helene’s diaries from when she finally managed to visit London. Although I didn’t enjoy this section as much, her wit and unique voice is equally strong here.

The thing that really makes this book so great is Helene’s brilliant writing. Her character really came through in her writing, and her letters are so witty and teasing that you will find yourself chuckling away at them. You could really get a feel for all of the characters through the letters, from Helene’s cheery humour to Frank’s more stiff-upper-lip reserve, the gossiping receptionist and his caring wife. It was also lovely to see the passage of time through their letters, and see how the relationships evolved into genuinely caring friendships. Frank remembers requests that Helene made years before, Helene asks after his family and even talks to his wife in separate letters, and although they plan for years to meet each other in London, the evolution of this slow-burn friendship is cut tragically short by circumstance, the event that prompted Helene to publish her letters.

Being such a short book with such lively writing, this was a really enjoyable read. It is barely over 100 pages but in that short period you feel like you have gotten to know Helene and the staff at Marks & Co. I definitely recommend it for a lively, sweet book about book, friendships, and friendships about books!

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

You – Caroline Kepnes Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I have a secret love of true crime documentaries, particularly, anything to do with scary serial killers and their psychology. Even though they leave me creeped out for days afterwards, I also enjoy the fear a little bit. This book felt just like those documentaries feel, but worse. If you’re looking for a book to make you feel a bit creeped out – or probably, very creeped out – look no further. Let me introduce you to the scariest book I have ever read.

You is a story told from the perspective of Joe, a bookseller in a used and rare bookstore. One day, Beck walks into his store, a young creative writing student, and he is instantly smitten. But, this isn’t just a crush. Joe descends into a full-blown obsession with Beck, ehe is determined to have her, and will do anything to remove obstacles between them. The novel traces his various manoeuvres to not only successfully meet Beck, but to get her to fall in love with him, and to keep her by his side.

Hands down the best thing about this novel was the narration. The entire story is told from Joe’s perspective, in the second person, as if he is talking to Beck directly – the ‘You’ of the title. The effect of this is striking from the first page, and Kepnes really captures Joe’s voice as he explains everything that he is thinking and feeling. Sometimes it reads like he is writing a letter to Beck, sometimes it reads more like a stream of consciousness narrative, as if we are actually listening to his own inner thought process. It is incredibly effective, and elevates the creepiness factor to brilliant heights.

The plot itself is also exciting. Joe has no limits, and it makes the book both a thrilling and horrifying read. On the one hand, you’re intrigued to see how much further Joe will go to secure his goal. With every new thing that he does, you are shocked to find that he has taken that extra step, from tracking down a person’s social media, to their address, to their location on various social outings. By the halfway point, I was convinced that the rest of the book would be a downhill ride, because how could Kepnes keep up the pace, but she did! On the other hand, it’s also terrifying to read, as you realise that Joe has no boundaries, and that he doesn’t care. He understands social norms and that his actions would be considered weird or dangerous, but in his mind, he is justified, and it is everyone else that is insane.

Overall, this book was brilliant from start to finish. It was a tightly woven story that never got boring, the stakes were consistently being raised to heighten tension, and the second person narrative escalated the suspense even more to the point where, at times, I was trembling with shock and excitement at the latest plot twist. I could not recommend this more, but warning: it will scare you.

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

Gilded Cage – Vic James Review

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Rating: ★★

Gilded Cage was my first foray into the dystopian genre in a while, and while I was really excited, it failed to deliver. I liked the blend of dystopian and fantasy in a modern, urban, British setting, which we don’t see very often. There were also certain characters that I liked and would happily read more about, but overall, I found the story boring, and some aspects of the story and characters were just not quite there.

In the world of Gilded Cage, society is divided in two. At the top, are the ‘Equals’. They have Skills, or magical powers, and rule Britain. Then, there’s everyone else, and they are each required to spend 10 years of their lives in slavery to the Equals. These 10 years can be taken at whatever point in life they wish, and most people are sent to slavetowns, where they work in factories. At the heart of this story is the Hadley family, who elect to sign up to do their ‘slavedays’ as a family while they are still young enough to survive it. Whilst they think that they are all being sent to the estate of the Jardine family, one of the ruling families of Britain, Luke Hadley is actually sent to Millmoor, a slavetown. There, he gets wound up in a revolution, whilst back at the estate, his family serve the Jardine family, trying not to fall foul of the rules of the imposing Lord Jardine, and his three sons,  Gavar, a brute, Silyen, a mysterious figure with dark powers, and Jenner, the Skill-less disappointment.

I’ll start with what I did like about this book, and that was the whole concept behind the world. I really liked the way that Vic James’s Britain has some alternate history aspects to it, dystopian aspects, and fantasy. All of that together was very interesting. I liked reading about the political set up of this alternate Britain, the way that the Equals governed and their families, and the political intrigue. Quite a few of the Equals are scheming constantly, trying to outsmart each other to get to the top spot. My favourites of these were Bouda, who in my opinion did not appear enough. She is set to marry the Jardine heir, and is only in it for what it can do for her. Her goal? To be the first female leader. I don’t care that she’s a bit evil, she’s like a mini-Cersei, a Slytherin through and through, and I want more of her. Even more interesting, and also unforgivably underrepresented, was Silyen Jardine. He’s the slightly creepy middle son of the Jardine family, and there were hints of him being ready, and almost eager, to betray even his own family to get what he wants. The only parts of the book that I really enjoyed included Silyen, including an eerie chapter in the middle of the book where he steps right into someone’s memories. I loved Silyen and his dodgy ways. Give me more Silyen. In fact, I propose abandoning the story, and just following Silyen.

Now, for the not-so-good parts.

Honestly, the story at the Jardine estate was plain boring. Abi is the main protagonist of this part, and she is a completely passive character for most of the book, doing next to nothing (until the last two pages). The only thing that she does do is, of course, fall in insta-love with Jenner Jardine. This relationship was difficult to buy into because (apart from the slave/master thing) both Jenner and Abi had zero personality, apart from just being nice, so not only could I not see what had attracted them to each other, but I literally could not care less. Further, I was disappointed in the way that the Hadley parents are completely ignored. They might as well have not been mentioned, and it made the whole family dynamic and the premise of the story – their family decision to become slaves – difficult to understand. The only remotely interesting character in this set-up was Daisy, the little sister, who showed potential to be spunky, but wasn’t quite there. Even so, I still found her story flawed, as I found the idea that a ten year old would be charged with taking care of a baby quite hard to believe. Am I the only one? Maybe it’s just because I’m 21 and children terrify me.

Luke’s story was far better, although the characters still suffered from the same one-dimensional characterisation issues. They were just popping up randomly, and then disappearing, and apart from a few central characters, I couldn’t tell you much about his gang of rebel misfits. Still, Luke actually does stuff, and so this story was more exciting.Towards the end of the novel, the action really amps up, and over the course of a few chapters there is literally stuff going on left, right, and centre. It’s full on. Guns are going off and things are blowing up. BUT I had literally no idea what was going on. I think Vic James was trying to capture the characters’ shock in her writing, but it just felt too disjointed in parts and confusing.

Overall, this book had potential, but I think it just failed to deliver in terms of plot and characters. The characters were flat, and the plot was slow. While I didn’t enjoy Gilded Cage, I do feel that it has potential. It is a shame that the book waited until the end to delve into action, but I see a lot of promise for where the story is going in the sequel, Tarnished City, and for the characters themselves. I really hope that the characters are developed more in the sequel, as I think that this was the main flaw of Gilded Cage and was what really held back the story.

Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult, Young Adult Historical

Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls Review

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Rating: ★

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

I have loved learning and reading about the suffragettes for years, and from when I first learned that this YA suffragette novel was being published, I was brimming with excitement. I was thrilled to be sent a copy. However, no matter how excited I was, and how much I wanted to like this book, I just didn’t think it was a good book. I thought that the writing was poor and the story was stretched too thin across the characters and the time that it spans. I’m gutted to be one of the lone voices so far disappointed in this book so far, but I can’t help it. I read this a while ago, but held publication of this post back until today when the book is published because I suspected it might not go down too well, but I hope anyone who disagrees with me will remember that these reviews are just my personal opinions on the book as a novel and not the subject matter.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do follows the story of three young girls – Evelyn, May, and Nell – from 1914 to 1918, through their struggles as they campaign for votes for women, the trials of the First World War, and finally to the first extension of suffrage to women in 1918. Evelyn is seventeen, from a wealthy background, and expected to marry her childhood sweetheart. However, she is frustrated at not being allowed to follow her dream of attending Oxford University, which drives her to join the suffragettes. May, however, is seventeen and has grown under the influence of her feminist, socialist, pacifist, vegetarian mother. Being a suffragette to her is a given. Nell is also already a suffragette, driven by the poor living and working conditions that she witnesses her family dealing with on a daily basis, and motivated by the suffragettes’ promises of social reform. The three of them join the fight for votes for different reasons, and we follow them as they pursue this fight through four tumultuous years.

A positive of this book is that the characters are diverse for a book set in this period, and which follows three white women. The book not only explores class and sex, but also LGBT issues, and even mentions a few times the work of BME suffragettes like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Sally Nicholls managed to include a broad and varied amount of information relating to the suffragette movement, however, in my opinion, this scope was at the expense of depth for the characters and the story. I felt like the characters were not detailed and three-dimensional, but rather the writing and the characterisation felt flat, and the girls felt instead like a vehicle for the presentation of all of this social history. Further, if diversity of characters was going to be the highlight of this book, there could have been even more, perhaps in the form of a POC protagonist.

My main issue with the characterisation of these girls was that their motives for acting the way that they did felt superficial. I’m not saying that I don’t understand why they were suffragettes, but I felt like Nicholls took for granted that modern audiences will. As a feminist reader, of course I will instantly cheer on these suffragette protagonists, but I still want characters to feel real. I have recently been watching Susan Dennard’s writing tips on her Instagram stories, and she mentions that characters must have a ‘desperate desire’, something that drives the more superficial desire of the plot. Yes, these girls want the vote. But why? What drives them to these lengths? What makes them abandon social norms? What makes them, in particular, act differently to other women who do not become suffragettes under the same pressures? As understandable as their reasons are from a detached perspective, I couldn’t feel their motivations on a human basis. I understood that Evelyn wanted to study and have opportunities like her brothers, but I didn’t feel her anger and her resentment come across in the writing.

You might have heard of the saying ‘Show, don’t tell,’ in writing. In my opinion, I couldn’t feel this because it didn’t stick to this rule. It meant that I couldn’t experience what Evelyn, May, and Nell were thinking and feeling because the author’s narrative was a wall between us rather than a bridge. Rather than getting into the characters’ heads, feeling exactly what they are feeling, we’re held at arms’ length. For example, one of the girls is arrested. We are told that it is the worst thing that has ever happened to her, the cell is described in detail, we are told that she feels lonely, but we can’t feel her loneliness, and we just have to take the description for face value rather than trying to experience for ourselves what it might be like to be arrested like her. This personal connection felt even more important than in most books considering that we know, in hindsight, that the suffragettes did eventually achieve their goal of female suffrage. If the only thing hooking us as readers is ‘Do they get the vote?’ the hook isn’t strong enough, because we know that they do. Instead, we have to also be hooked by the girls’ personal deep desires, and I just wasn’t.

This made it difficult for me to feel emotionally connected or invested in the girls as people. I had to just accept when characters fell in love, rather than feeling the love that they felt, accept that they were angry, rather than feel angry with them. Rather than feeling Nell’s pain and struggle, I was treated to a pages-long retelling of her families’ troubles during her entire childhood. I generally cannot stand info-dumps, and this book was full of them. Rather than embedding the historical facts more gently in the story itself, perhaps revealing information through conversations or experiences, and so making the historical facts feel more poignant, the information was simply dumped on us in the narrative. On the other hand, there were things that could have been mentioned. I expected, when Nell starts work as a munitionette, that mention would be made of many munitionettes being poisoned by the substances they were working with and the health implications, or of the explosions that killed many, something that would have been easy to point out considering its relevance to her story, and yet it wasn’t.

I wanted to give 2 stars just in recognition of its subject matter and representation of different social groups, but I decided not to, simply because the subject matter was literally the only thing that kept me reading this book. I also felt that the causes represented could have been more impactful with stronger writing, and perhaps a smaller focus. Instead of spreading the story so thinly over three girls and four years, perhaps focusing on one perspective with the others as secondary characters would have allowed for the depth of detail that was missing. I can’t describe how gutted I am to have not enjoyed this book, but I just couldn’t see past the poor writing.

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Books From Before I Joined the Online Book Community

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 about the best books from before joining the online book community. I have been posting reviews here for a while, but I first properly joined the online book community on Instagram. It has introduced me to many excellent books, many of which have become firm favourites. So, here we go!

1. I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

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This was recommended to me by an Instagram follower, and it honestly changed my life. That may be a slight exaggeration, but this book is amazing. It is always in my top 5 favourite books, and I still remember how long it lingered in my memory after I had finished it. Jandy Nelson has a way with words, and I don’t think I would have picked up her books if it wasn’t for other book bloggers. So thank you, Bookstagram!

Full review here.

2. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

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This was my first foray into YA fantasy for a long time, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I loved Sarah J Maas’s world and characters, and YA fantasy, with its multitude of female protagonists and interesting magical worlds, has always been a favourite genre since.

3. The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Another YA fantasy series that had already begun before I joined bookstagram, this book was recommended to me by a friend, and it is another world that dragged me in. I loved its quiet protagonist, and the way she slowly woke up to the injustice and lies of the world around her.

Full review here.

4. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

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YA book bloggers love Jenny Han, and although at first I thought that I wouldn’t like this book – I don’t typically go for ‘fun’ contemporaries, this book was too much fun to deny. You just have to give into it. Jenny’s writing was lighthearted but still strong, and Lara Jean feels like a real character, as do her family. This is another book I would not have given a chance if it weren’t for book bloggers, and yet again, I’ve been proven wrong about my prejudices!

5. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

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I really enjoyed this book, despite (again) having some concerns about going into YA contemporary – basically, the online book community has broken down all my YA fears. I loved the characters and the writing, and the book made me cry. That’s always a score in my books (pun intended.)

Full review here.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

S.T.A.G.S – M.A. Bennett Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

WOW! I am still reeling from this book even though I finished it hours ago, and if I didn't have a serious need to get through some books on my reading list before school starts, I would delve right back into S.T.A.G.S again from the beginning to see how many more little details I missed. I've already tweeted and told friends that this book is like Hogwarts meets How to Get Away With Murder, but there is honestly so much in this book to get excited about, and I hope I can control my excitement enough to write a coherent review.

S.T.A.G.S stands for St Aidan the Great School. It is the prestigious boarding school that Greer, the protagonist, has won a scholarship to attend for sixth form. Intimidated and lonely, surrounded by children who are wealthier than her and know all the rules better than she does, she is intrigued and excited when she receives The Invitation. She has been invited to spend a weekend 'huntin, shootin, fishin,' at Longcross, the manor house belonging to the school's golden boy, Henry de Warlencourt, along with his gang, called the Medievals, and two other misfits. However, Greer's belief that she might have finally been welcomed into S.T.A.G.S begins to waver. As each of the bloodsports ends in a well-timed 'accident', the three guests begin to wonder whether they are the predators, or the prey.

This novel has a mystery feel to it from the beginning. I loved how Bennett uses foreboding so well, instantly telling us from the start that a 'murder' takes place, and that there is something ominous going on in S.T.A.G.S, and yet, like Greer herself, we can't quite figure out what it is. Just as she does, we're suspicious of characters, and then we see them in a slightly more flattering light and we wonder whether they're really the bad guys at all, or whether they're just misunderstood. I liked how she alternated tense scenes, like the hunting scenes, with Downton Abbey-esque dinners, more romantic scenes, or slightly friendlier chats with the Medievals. It meant that your idea of the characters was never set in stone, and they changed with every scene. Until the very last page, you can't quite put your finger down on the problem, you can't figure out who the real bad guy is, where the 'bad guys' end and the 'good guys' begin, and how Greer and her friends will ever be able to escape.

The plot moves forward constantly, and even where the pace of the story is slower, there is always tension bubbling away beneath the surface. Every conversation that the characters have, every room that we enter, every little detail means something, and you are kept on your toes throughout. I loved the way that the three guests at Longcross, Greer, Nel, and Shafeen, come together to try and figure out what is really going on at Longcross, and discover that the seemingly harmless traditions of not using technology hide something far darker underneath. I never felt that Bennett's writing dragged the story down, even though she often described things like buildings and dresses, because she did so in a way that felt natural to Greer's voice and fit in with the story, and always picked up details that she had mentioned and made them important later in the story. She has an excellent skill at weaving details and storylines together in a way that you suspect they will add up to something more significant, but can't quite figure it out. In fact, right up until the last page, she is pulling tricks out of her sleeve and shocking you.

Underneath all of this excitement, mystery, and suspense, there are deeper themes of class, race, and tradition. Even if the setting of S.T.A.G.S and Longcross is as establishment as it comes, and as alien to you as it was to Greer and me, this book is not Downton Abbey or Hogwarts-esque. It isn't even, as Greer jokes, Mean Girls-esque. It is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It makes you question establishment and traditions, and also wonder what deep, dark secrets could be lurking in plain sight.

I've said this in a few reviews recently, but this is definitely one of my books of the year, and even after writing this review, I'm still reeling. I just know that I'll read anything that M.A. Bennett writes after this.

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