Posted in book reviews

The Truth Project – Dante Medema

Seventeen-year-old Cordelia Koenig was sure of many things going into her last year of high school. For one, she wasn’t going to stress over the senior project all her peers were dreading—she’d just use the same find-your-roots genealogy idea that her older sister used for hers. Secondly, she’d put all that time spent not worrying about the project toward getting reacquainted with former best friend and longtime crush Kodiak Jones who, conveniently, gets assigned as Cordelia’s partner.

All she has to do is mail in her DNA sample, write about her ancestry results and breeze through the rest of senior year. Done, done and done.

But when Cordelia’s GeneQuest results reveal that her father is not the man she thought he was but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, Cordelia realizes she isn’t sure of anything anymore—not the mother who lied, the life she was born into or the girl staring back at her in the mirror.

If your life began with a lie, how can you ever be sure of what’s true?

Trigger / Content Warnings: abortion (alluded to & briefly discussed), abandonment (parental – feels abandoned by them), alcohol consumption (underage), drunk driving (resulting in an accident, briefly mentioned)

Written in stunning verse, Dante Medema examines the relationship between children and their parents, and what shapes a persons identity – is it nature, is it nurture, or is it a mix of both? The protagonist, Cordelia, has always felt like she didn’t fit in to her family, that she was the odd one out. So, when it is her turn to do her senior project, she – like her elder sister before her – decides to do it based on DNA. Except where her sister wrote about the famous people she was related to, Cordelia finds out a truth she has been suspecting all along . . .


When you looked into my eyes
and told me I wasn’t his.
I cried.

Not because you took away the only
father
I’ve ever known.

But because I was relieved.

I always knew there was something different about me



But with that feeling of vindication, also comes the confusion, the hurt, the pain, and the questions. How does this change who she is? How did this happen? Who is she related to? What does this mean for the father who raised her? Cordelia begins to spiral, feeling her sense of who she is begin to unravel from her.


When you looked into my eyes
and told me not to tell him
I cried.

Not because you wanted me to lie.

But because you deepened the gap between me
and the only
father
I’ve ever known.

It will never be okay

.

Cordelia’s journey to learn more about her biological father, herself, and her mother while dealing with lying to her father, and her sisters, is extremely emotional and heartbreaking. Medema’s verse is vivid, you feel all of Cordelia’s pain, angst, confusion, and anger. You also feel her hope, and ache with her when it’s diminished. Truly an emotional read.

I enjoyed Cordelia’s relationship with Kodiak, but I do wish that we got to see more of his character. His troubles were always mentioned, and how he was attempting to overcome them, but often times he never felt as real as Cordelia did. And yes, this is Cordelia’s story but I do feel as if it would have been beneficial to explore Kodiak’s depth more considering his role in the story.

I also really liked Cordelia’s relationship with her best friend. I am sad that when they have conflict it was overshadowed and almost instantly forgotten about. Again, it felt those characters could not have their own depth/storylines (or at least follow through with them) because it all had to be about Cordelia. Which, again, understandable, she is going through an ordeal but I do wish more time was spent on her other relationships as they too were important to her identity.

While I do wish we could’ve had more exploration of Cordelia’s family, I really enjoyed the conclusion. The conversation she had with her father made me cry, and overall it ended on a really hopeful note.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and thought the verse was fantastic. A quick & emotional read.
 

4/5 stars!

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Kingdom of the Wicked – Kerri Maniscalco (Kingdom of the Wicked, #1)

Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost-even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked-princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

Kingdom of the Wicked is the new historical-fiction / fantasy about witches and demons (the Wicked) by the author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

I entered in to this novel only having read Stalking Jack the Ripper, a novel which I absolutely detested. I put it down for around a year before I picked it back up, having finally found the willpower, to power through into the ending. After that, despite owning the sequel (I was so sure I was going to be a fan) I did not continue on with that series.

So, when this was announced I went ‘hmmm’ because it sounded amazing but so did SJTR, and look where that got me. But the pretty cover and the premise hooked me in, and I decided to give the author another shot.

And for most of the book, I was glad I did. The novel opened with a whooping heap of pathetic fallacy, with the raging storm, wind beating on the windows, loud, angry, scared . . . reflecting part of the mood in the cabin, signaling the lurking danger that the twins are unaware of, as their Nonna begins to tell them a story about the evil Wicked . . . It was incredibly atmospheric, and I was immediately pleased that the prologue was drawing me in further, and hadn’t turned me away.

And so the book continued, showing Vittoria and Emilia ten years later, working in their family restaurant. Their Nonna is still overly superstitious and protective, warning the girls of danger that they refuse to take as seriously as her. And then the worst happens, Vittoria is murdered, found by Emilia herself – who instantly regrets not listening to her Nonna’s warnings, and for not paying closer attention to her sister, and for not believing her when she said she summoned the devil . . .

So, Emilia goes on a mission to avenge her sister – was it the man she found above her sisters body, who fled in to the night? – which leads to her unravelling secrets about her family lineage, her sisters secret and the identity she kept hidden, and the Wicked Prince Wrath.

And my goodness. Wrath was an excellent character. I thought he was hilarious! His dry humour and no nonsense attitude gave me a good giggle. Emilia and him had such good chemistry, and I loved all of their scenes together and was continually yelling at the page whenever they had an angsty interaction that was filled with subtle (not) yearning.

And it was all well and good.

But then it just got messy. I don’t think it’s me, I was reading this book pretty closely, but the ending suddenly appeared and all these answers came tumbling out and I sat there like

Wait, what?

Because it just did not make sense! After the entirety of the book – and this is not a short book by any means – that’s how it ends? And I’m not saying this because I’m bitter it didn’t end in a romantic declaration of love. It just seemed the author forgot to actual show & tell the reader that was going on, but instead sped through it, without realising the audience isn’t in her head and doesn’t have the knowledge of the story as she does. It seemed contradictory, rushed, and just not very cohesive. Like I get it, but I also don’t get it? I don’t want to give spoilers – but AHHH. It is SO frustrating. Seemed like Maniscalco went for the shock factor, leave it on a cliffhanger, we will work through the facts and make it clearer in the sequel ending . . .

And I’m not a fan.

I didn’t expect an entire resolution in this, knowing that it will have a sequel. But I did expect an ending that would draw the threads together, to show a well developed character and plot arc, and this just did not have it. Which is such a shame, because most of this book was brilliant and had the potential to be wholly incredible.

Alas, it was not. 3 stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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These Violent Delights – Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights, #1)

Tricia Lin at Simon Pulse has acquired, at auction, Chloe Gong’s debut YA fantasy These Violent Delights, pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling by way of The Godfather.

A monster has awakened in 1920s Shanghai, killing off citizens and stirring trouble between two feuding gangs. The rival heirs, Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, must work together before the monster destroys all they hold dear, even while the Chinese Civil War breaks out around them.

Publication is planned for fall 2020; Laura Crockett at TriadaUS Literary Agency did the two-book deal for North American rights.

This review discusses the story and plot, but does not reveal any major plot reveals. However, I do make wishes about what I would like to see in the next novel, thus that may hint/spoil at some events in this novel.

Trigger Warnings: (Taken from the authors review) This book contains mentions and descriptions of blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse.

Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling by way of The Godfather, is absolutely phenomenal. Gong adopted elements from both Shakespeare’s tragedy and Puzo’s novel and created something unique, and hers. While some of the elements of the story may seem familiar because of the intertextuality, Gong adapts them into nail-biting reveals, twists, and turns. I particularly loved how Gong used the ‘this will make you appear dead for a time, but you are not’ in to the plot in an unexpected, but no less heartbreaking, manner. I was on the edge of my seat the entire novel to see if she would include that, and if the end of the novel would be similar to that of Shakespeare’s tragedy…

Speaking of the ending – as the title suggests, These Violent Delightsdo have violent ends. I could not believe it when I read the last page, as Juliette read that later, and then chaos was unleashed…and then it was DONE! Over! And I’m left sitting here, yelling, because WHAT? I was already heartbroken and desperate for more over previous events a chapter or two earlier, and I was like “no! Not this too!” But WOW, am I excited for the sequel.

On the topic of heartbreak, oh, the angst and the yearning and the hate and the love between Roma and Juliette had be so emotional. The tension between them with all the hurt, the unspoken words, the hidden – but also obvious – love they still had for each other . . . it was killing me. I love them. The misunderstanding. The way they should just talk. The way they protect each other even if it means heartbreak. The people and politics standing in between them. AHHH. ALL I WANT IS FOR THEM TO BE HAPPY.

Aside from their relationship, I really liked both Roma and Juliette as individuals. I feel like Gong explored their motivations well, and gave a convincing backstory to why both of them are the way they are, and what shaped them. This happened through some analepsis, and anecdotal stories, which made the story feel fleshed out and well rounded despite many of the years that had a big impact on their characters not being shown fully on page (i.e., the relationship between Roma and Juliette before the betrayal and her departure for New York).

I enjoyed the relationships we saw between Juliette and her family, particularly that with Kathleen, who I thought was a wonderful character. I have my suspicions about Rosalind…and I absolutely do not like Tyler (he is a well written antagonist for Juliette). I do wish we got to see more of Juliette and her family, but it’s not something that impacted my enjoyment of the novel. I also loved if when we got to see Juliette interact with Marshall! Can they please be best friends?

I loved the relationship Roma had with his sister, and do wish we got more of that! His relationship with Benedikt and Marshall was also brilliant, and I enjoyed their scenes together. I am really glad we had the dual POV to be able to see both Roma’s and Juliette’s lives and the personal stakes each of them have, and the pressures on them – especially since both of them are not aware of some of the problems they have (Roma/his dad, Juliette/Tyler).

They were not the only characters I found myself invested in, but also Marshall and Benedikt. Oh, the quiet, soft, budding yearning between them . . . please. I love them. Their dynamic was soft and hilarious. And they are both such brilliant characters individually, too.

This novel is filled with political turmoil, with foreign powers trying to assert their influence and control, which unsettles the pre-existing domestic turmoil between the gangs. This impacts the way the characters move through the world, and their identity – particularly Juliette, who finds herself heavily impacted by her life, education and experiences in the West. Thus, opening up a wider discourse on imperalism, white supremacy & racism and not only how it impacts the individual, but the entire country.

Despite loving this book so much, I did have my issues with it. At times I found it to be particularly slower paced, not really moving anywhere which was disappointing. Because when it did pick up with the action, it was brilliant. However, for long build ups, it did seem sometimes as if the reveals just decided to jump up out of no where (because the book was finally coming to a close). Also, I feel like a lot was saved for the next novel, for example, what is going on with Rosalind (I have my suspicions), and Tyler etc… which, you know, is fine because this is a duology but it is disappointing that so much of the book spent time on things just to be like nope, wait for the next! I just wish there was a little more reveal/resolution to it, for the sequel to deal with the fallout (there’s a lot that book is going to have to do, and I just know when reading it I will be full of tension).

So overall, this is a 4/4.5 star read for me! And I am excited for the sequel.

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Star Daughter – Shveta Thakrar

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

Trigger Warnings: imprisonment, physical assault (character beaten, not extremely graphic but there are details), ‘self-flagellation’ (term used in-text to describe character anxiously picking skin to the point of drawing blood), panic attacks, consuming blood, murder (method mentioned, not vivid, in-depth description)

Shveta Thakrar’s Star Daughter is a worthwhile, well-written, wonderfully magical debut novel. Star Daughter narrates the story Sheetal, the daughter of a star and a mortal, as she goes on a quest to save her father from the injury she accidentally inflicted on to him, which leads her to the Celestial Court where she reunites with the mother who left her . . .

What follows is a story of self-discovery as Sheetal is confronted with the knowledge of everything that had been kept from her, and all that they keep from her still. She goes on a journey to find out more about herself, her family, and their mysterious, murky past to find out who she is and where she should fit in to this world, while combatting with the strong wills of everyone else in the Star court who all have their own opinions & ideas of what they want her to do.

The best written part of this novel is Sheetal’s emotional turmoil as she tries to come to terms with who she is, after years of being told to hide parts of herself, and never being able to express herself in the way she wants to because she’s in the mortal world and it’s dangerous for a Star. You can also feel Sheetal’s anxiety and terror at the unknown world and situation she has been thrown in to, and the upset she feels about her mother seemingly abandoning her and her father when she was a child. With the latter, I did expect more from when they finally reunited in the Celestial court. It wasn’t awful, and the story ARC was satisfactory, but I often felt that they never could quite connect because Sheetal’s mother, even with better intentions, also had a scheme she couldn’t see past in order to just be there for Sheetal. The ending did touch more on her mother and her mending more of their dynamic, and we did get explanations, but I hoped for more emotion and more scenes of them talking/figuring it out.

I also felt disappointed by the competition aspect, which was a big aspect of the main plot. The whole reason Sheetal participated was to win, and most of the novel took span over the two days she had leading up to it, with all the training she had to do. I am not sure what I quite expected, I’m not sure Thakrar had a character paint it as anything else but a talent competition, but yet when it was revealed to be that I was like ?? This is it ?? And then the competition was over before we knew it, and it got all sorts of messy in between with peoples schemes, revelations, and grasps for power and then it came to a close and it was like . . . oh. Okay. That was that, then. That whole part of the novel I honestly failed to keep up, because one second everyone was on so-and-so’s-side, and then they weren’t, and then someone tried to kill/assault someone else, and then it seemed like the clothes were also healed with the magic, and then things continued, someone else was condemned, and then it continued – and it was ultimately just a long conversation (like this sentence) that I felt like I needed to make a flow chart for.

I do hope this novel gets a sequel, though, or at least a companion novel! It ended well, but I am curious about what is going to happen because there’s still a lot of turmoil, with sort of a half-resolution that was Sheetal being like ‘I’ll deal with that later’ and I wasn’t entirely satisfied I would also like to see more of the Celestial court, because what we did get to see was magnificent! I liked the incorporation of Hindu mythology, and I kept hoping we’d see more of the Gods/Deities and magical creatures show up.

I recommend Star Daughter to you if you’re looking for a book about a talent competition set amongst the stars, a character that goes on a journey to discover who she is, and a whole lot of family and political drama. I will be reading Thakrar’s next release (whatever it may be!) because despite my few issues with this one, I think she is a decent writer and good storyteller and am excited to see what she comes up with next! 

3/5 stars!

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Court of Lions – Somaiya Daud (Mirage, #2)

Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?

After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.

Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris? 

Court of Lions is the exciting and incredibly well written sequel and finale to the Mirage duology.

I really enjoyed reading Mirage and the ending of the novel had me on the edge of my seat, yelling because I desperately wanted to read the sequel and find out what was going to happen next with Amani. What followed was a breathtaking and tense story about fighting for justice, family and friends.

My favourite thing about both Mirage and Court of Lions has to be Amani & Maram, and how both of them are equally as important to the telling of the story. I am a sucker for the chosen one trope, and I really liked how Daud made all of her female characters ‘chosen ones’.

I also enjoyed getting to see more of the various places, and meeting people from different courts! The only thing I think I would have to *complain* about is that we didn’t get more!

Overall, I would highly recommend this trilogy if you’re looking for a thrilling fantasy and sci-fi novel filled with political intrigue, an interesting setting, and brilliantly written characters and relationships.

4/5 stars!

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10 Things I Hate About Pinky – Sandhya Menon (Dimple and Rishi #3)

The delightful follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie, which follows Ashish’s friends Pinky and Samir as they pretend to date in order to achieve their individual goals, to disastrous and hilarious results.

Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.

Samir Jha might have a few…quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady.

Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions she’s made (a.k.a. boyfriends she’s had), she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer.

When Samir’s internship falls through, leaving him with an unplanned summer, he gets a text from Pinky asking if he’ll be her fake boyfriend in exchange for a new internship. He jumps at the opportunity; Pinky’s a weirdo, but he can survive a summer with her if there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.

10 Things I Hate About Pinky is the third novel in the Dimple and Rishi universe, following on from When Dimple Met Rishi There’s Something About Sweetie. I liked When Dimple Met Rishi, really enjoyed There’s Something About Sweetie . . . and I loved this one.

10 Things I Hate About Pinky is told from the dual perspective of Pinky and Samir, as they both combat personal struggles over the course of a summer holiday. Pinky has a tense relationship with her mother, she feels as if she is never good enough for her parents, a constant disappointment . . . So she lives to that role, until she gets blamed for something she did not do one too many times . . .

This leads Pinky to inviting Samir to her holiday home, to pretend to be her fake boyfriend, to show her parents that she is not as much of a failure or disappointing as they think they are. (AHHH! Fake-dating trope!!!! Yes!!!!) Samir agrees to help Pinky. His internship in a prestigious law firm fell through, and its his hope, that by helping Pinky, he will gain an internship with her mother, who is known as ‘The Shark’. But like Pinky, he also has to confront his own behaviour, and the relationship with his mother…

These two characters were brilliant together! There was so much chemistry in their relationship – in the way they bantered with each other, with how they confront, challenge and support each other. Absolutely brilliant. They are very much opposites that attract – who compliment each other wonderfully – and the Menon has the characters confront whether or not a real relationship between them can withstand their differences . . .

Pinky and Samir learn so much about each other, but also learn so much about themselves. Some scenes incredibly frustrated me – I found I wanted to yell at the characters for how mean they were to each other, or out of order. But I held it in, and continued reading, and these moments were explored and developed upon in a way that I felt satisfied with.

I really enjoyed the supporting characters, as well. It would have been nice to have more time spent with them. For example, a large part of Pinky’s characterisation and struggle was to do with her relationship with her mother. Most of the novel concerned Pinky’s feelings of distance, anger, and upset with her mother, yet there was not much time spent on the resolution. I was not unhappy with how the novel resolved their relationship, but I do wish we could have seen more of that. Similar with Samir. We saw him make a decision about how he wants to move forward, yet we never got to see that dynamic with his mother play out. I understand, because the novel was set in a singular place and his mother was in another, but I do wish there was more of his relationships explored.

Overall, I loved this book! I was in the midst of writing my final university assignments at this point, and it provided much needed escapism. And when I put it down to continue on, it provided motivation to hurry up and finish so I could get back to reading it.

For that, I give this 5 stars.

Thank you Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Good Girl, Bad Blood – Holly Jackson (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #2)

Pip Fitz-Amobi is not a detective anymore.

With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared but the police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time EVERYONE is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?

DISCLAIMER: Mild spoilers for the first novel and for this one. Read at your own discretion!

TW: rape, assault, blood, murder, abuse

Good Girl, Bad Blood is the sequel to Jackson’s 2019 debut novel, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Following on from the first novel, we find Pip dealing with the consequences and trauma from the events of the first novel. The events of book one haunt Pip, causing her to question her identity (who is she? Is she a good person?) and the things she did in book 1 that led her to revealing the truth about what happened to Andie Bell…

And you feel this. You feel how haunted Pip is, in the opening lines of most chapters. They open with Pip being haunted by memories, by sounds, by images; you feel how lost Pip is, how confused, how sad. For example:

“Words spliced, growing across the gaps like vines as her eyes unfocused, until her handwriting was just one writhing blur. Pip was looking at the page, but she wasn’t really there. It was like that now; giant holes in her attention that she slipped right into.”

You see the impact past (and recent) events have had on Pip and her mental health, written in a nuanced, and complex way. They were built in to the story, and it made Pip feel like a real, tangible character. That is why I loved the opening lines of the chapters so much, because they drew your attention and focus back down to the character, and her raw, honest emotions – before launching back in to the drama. It worked really, really well.

This novel also continued to explore the impact of the first novel in other ways, such as the court trials for certain offenders. This acts as a different plot point, that slowly becomes more and more entwined in to the current investigation…

And while it does that, it also opens up a discourse and a sub-plot on rape culture and justice, the latter which is a pre-dominant over-arching theme for both novels.

What is justice? Who can determine it? This novel points out that the law, our government systems (the court, the police), do not always get it right – but does that mean that personal vendettas and vigilantism can be carried out? It is an interesting discourse, questioning whether if there is, or should be, a simple black and white view on things…

And again, this leads Pip to question her own integrity, her own morals, and what is truth. People question her, think she’s a liar, and detest her for what she did to discover the truth about Andie, and the way she presented the facts afterwards. It is a study in justice and character.

So, this novel was able to wonderfully blend the events and consequences of the first novel in to this sequel, while also allowing the sequel to stand alone as it’s own thrilling and entertaining investigative drama. I loved the fact this acted as a direct continuation, while also setting up new stories – I really applaud Jackson for blending and balancing the two well.

But my absolute favourite thing about these novels are the characters and their relationships. I find it really nice and refreshing to read about such a genuine loving, honest and healthy relationship between Pip and Ravi. And I love Pip’s relationships with her friends: Cara, Connor and Zach. Even when things aren’t always perfect, we see them all communicate and work through their issues, and come out on the other side having learnt and growing as people and friends because of it.

Other things I liked about this novel! The podcast format. I loved how that was a way to recap the other plot points. I really liked that we got to see comments, and the theories – this felt even more interactive. (And again, the discussion on whether things like this should even be a podcast. The question is can you get these stories out there, without profiting off of the trauma? and things like that. A very nuanced, complex novel).

I’m really excited to see where Jackson is going to take this series. The way this novel ended had me in chills. It ended angrily, and with a sense of vengeance, and with Pip in a dark place (she seems to be dealing with PTSD, which is likely after the final events of what happened to her) and I am excited to see Jackson explore that further. It was lightly touched on in this novel (identity crisis, her screaming, getting expelled), but things have only gotten bigger..

I haven’t wanted to spoil too much, but yes. The way this novel ended….chills. We had Pip dealing with her darker side, with her trauma, her obsessive habits, but the novel did not end with her solving them…

5/5 Stars!

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Pretending – Holly Bourne

WHY BE YOURSELF WHEN YOU CAN BE PERFECT?
‘Perceptive. Hilarious. Reassuring. Brilliant.’ Laura Jane Williams
The highly-anticipated new novel from Holly Bourne, bestselling author of HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW?

He said he was looking for a ‘partner in crime’ which everyone knows is shorthand for ‘a woman who isn’t real’.

April is kind, pretty, and relatively normal – yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry.

If only April could be more like Gretel.

Gretel is exactly what men want – she’s a Regular Everyday Manic Pixie Dream Girl Next Door With No Problems.

The problem is, Gretel isn’t real. And April is now claiming to be her.

As soon as April starts ‘being’ Gretel, dating becomes much more fun – especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua.

Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?

Pretending isn’t a bad book, but it’s not the greatest either.

Bourne’s novels always discuss important subjects, such as different forms of assault, toxic relationships, mental health struggles, and, to put broadly, feminism. And this is so important. Her novels have opened a wider discourse and conversations with people, offering a new perspective, and has provided an accessible and new space to discuss the trauma, and advise on how to seek help/recognise negative behaviour.

And this novel did that. This novel follows the protagonist April, who works as part of a charity on the front-lines, helping people with their struggles. This can range from helping them dealing with their rape, alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts, etc. And while April is working there, she finds herself dealing with the trauma and the effects of when she was raped a few years beforehand.

The novel does a deep dive in to April’s trauma, her coping mechanisms. Part of this is her deep distrust and hatred of men. So April forms the stereotypical, satirical alter ego of ‘Gretel’ who is basically – what she thinks, and what we often see in various forms of media – the mans perfect woman. April thinks if she becomes Gretel, she will be free from being harmed by men: she has the control.

But this isn’t as easy as April thinks it is, and this all pans out throughout the course of the novel. In conversations with herself, her friend, her therapist, her newly met friends at a boxing class for other survivors. While that is all very in-depth, I found the novel to be lacking something…

Originality. I think if this was the first novel of Bourne’s I read, it would get a much higher rating. But to me, this feels like the adult version (or the finalised draft) of Bourne’s YA novel before this, The Places I’ve Cried in Public mixed in with her first adult book (which I dislike), How Do You Like Me Now? They all just feel interchangeable. The characters, the plots, the narrative style and their discourse.

April feels like the same character as the other protagonists in Bourne’s other novels. Very cut-and-paste like. And while this a novel about the female experience, I don’t think it does it justice when every male character in Bourne’s novels are also the same cut and paste dry cardboard characters.

I don’t know how I feel judging this based on her other work, but at the same time, having read the majority of the catalogue I am familiar with Bourne’s writing style and thus have a critical eye and opinion on the development of her writing. That I can’t ignore. Bourne, the more and more I read, just seems like she knows how to write the same characters and stories over and over. . . and that doesn’t insinuate good writing to me. (Basically just copying herself).

So it’s a really hard one, because the message of this book is important, and it has some really great moments that explore issues that all women can (sadly) relate to. But then, I find it lacks putting across the emotion it could have done, due to the not-so-greatly written characters (this novel could’ve had a wonderful supporting ensemble, but Bourne gives them a moment of screen time, tries to make them look *layered* and then moves on) and plot.

So this one is a 3 stars for me. I don’t entirely hate it. It’s decent. But I’m not head over heels for it. Nice idea, poor execution.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for kindly giving me a copy of this novel  in exchange for an honest review. 

Posted in book reviews

The Near Witch – V.E. Schwab

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

I was incredibly excited to dive into Schwab’s debut novel, The Near Witch, to see where it all began – and I was not disappointed.

This was a bone-chilling, atmospheric read, that I most certainly regretted reading in the early hours of the morning, with nothing but my (not very bright) bedside lamp lighting my room. Schwab sets the atmosphere wonderfully, I felt incredibly creeped out and scared of the uncanny (the wind!!) and I was glad my window was tightly shut. This is something Schwab does wonderfully in more recent works as well, she has a strong grasp on tone and creating atmospheric settings that feel incredibly real.

That was the strongest part of the novel. In other places, it feel flat for me. Maybe it’s just me liking details and particulars, but I really wanted to know what time this was set in (did I miss it). I felt like there were modern idioms used, which felt out of place and juxtaposed the sort of medieval setting. There was just a lot about the world that did not make sense – and I wasn’t able to let this go.

Secondly, Lexi tired me out with her constant running! She was constantly running from one place to another. Often, this didn’t even make sense – I don’t get how she was able to run from people who were, in some instances, described as being close to her? And then she’d rest, like they never noticed / couldn’t catch up to her. How fast does she run????

The characters / emotional stakes fell flat. I think it was because of the constant running, (yet, I would say this didn’t have much action for a large chunk of it) that I don’t think time was spent delving in to and exploring the familial & romantic relationships. Thus, even when profound moments happened, they were sad/happy based on that circumstance, but it wasn’t particularly moving.

But I did love reading this. I think it was great to go back to the earliest released work of Schwab, and to see how much her writing has grown and changed over the course of her career. This, by no means, was a bad book. But in later works, her characterisation & plot development became much stronger. I’m excited to continue to follow her work.

3 out of 5 witchy stars.

Posted in book reviews

The Court of Miracles – Kester Grant (Court of Miracles, #1)

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Let me start off by saying that this had potential. Truly, it did. It might not immediately come across as such, with the typical YA fantasy name, and being compared to the current most popular books in that genre. But it had the potential to take those well loved things, and make it it’s own. The Court of Miracles tried to do this by drawing allusion to other popular literary texts (Les Mis, The Jungle Book) and by telling an alternate history. Exciting, right? Sadly not.

This probably makes me a terrible literature student, but I have never read Les Misérables, or seen any adaption, nor do I intend to. I am also only vaguely familiar with The Jungle Book, my familiarity stemming from seeing the film as a child (I have never read the book, or watched any recent adaptations).

Thus, the many allusions that this book utilised were lost on me. The characters, whose backstories I imagined where drawn from the original canon, were not familiar to me. I wondered, while reading, that if I was aware would I enjoy this more?

And there lies the issue. Should I have to be familiar with those texts to get the full possible enjoyment out of this? Should I have to be familiar with the canon it is influenced by, to understand what is going on? No, I don’t think so.

Sure, for fans of the originals – or at least those more familiar than me – it should give them something extra, like the feeling of picking up on a clue the author dropped, but the novel should not rely on it – those allusions to the canon – to make the novel for it.

Thus, that was my first issue, which stemmed in to my others.

The plot jumped around so, so much! From narrative, to the narrative structure, to characterisation! It was hard to keep up, and thus hard to care.

The book opens with Nina being forced to leave her sister, having to join the world of The Miracle Courts that was foreign to her, yet so familiar. It happened so quickly, without any development. Even though there was so much action, which should have been promising me a fast, quick paced read, it felt weak. I told myself that it was just the beginning, and it would get better.

And then there was a time jump. Three months I think? And we are now introduced to a Nina, different to the one we first met in that small instant. We had barely gotten to know her then; and we definitely don’t know her now. But she want from being initiated, to bragging about how amazing she is as a thief, and all these dark plans she had.

Which, fine. But no characterisation. No development.

The book goes through several time jumps like this. The next, three years (I think?). And again, Nina has grown in to this character, and has all these plans she vaguely refers to, and all these deep relationships with people…yet you don’t feel them. Because everytime one of the sections of the book gets started, and you start to connect, it jump starts again.

And while its dealing with romance, and death, and sisterhood, and coming-of-age, and parental relationships, it hardly holds any gravitas. All these big, emotional reveals mean nothing. The plot was out of touch, the MC achieving goals, to then have them ripped away, to then do something else, to then have to restart – and even though it remained the same (save her sister(s)) it never actually felt consistent. (Probably because at one stage she basically did her goal, and I was like oh. Well, that was quick, BUT WHERE WILL THIS GO? and then yeah. That didn’t work out and it just carried on).

This just felt like a very, very, very, very rough draft. It wasn’t cohesive in terms of narrative, the plot was poorly paced and not developed, as well as the characters. It’s a shame, really, because I felt like this could have been a great book, if only the author stopped to pause and tell her story – rather than race through it.

I have read an ARC copy, and it is my hope that by the time of publication the novel has been better edited, and changes made, to help it reach it’s full potential. Because this has it in it to be an entertaining, thrilling read. But right now, it has not reached that point.

2 Stars.

Thank you Netgalley and HarperCollinsUK for this advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.