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What Magic Is This? – Holly Bourne

Sophia, Mia and Alexis are clinging on to a spark of hope that maybe – just maybe – they’re special. But could they really be witches with the power to cast life-changing spells? When the three friends gather to cheer up heartbroken Sophia, they’re ready to put their theory to the test. But when long-held secrets are revealed and hard truths start to hit home, their night of bewitching quickly takes an unexpected turn …

What Magic Is This? at it’s heart, is a tale of friendship. It is the binding agent to this spell, one of the most important ‘ingredients’.

Sophia, Mia and Alexis are all well-rounded, distinct characters, each going on their own personal journey in the course of this novella. This was very well done, as this is such a short book, but it manages to create and follow through on a story arc for all three of the characters. The characters deal with a discourse on self-love and self-worth, mental health, and explore relationship dynamics both romantic and platonic. These are similar topics/issue that we all have dealt and deal with – therefore, making this book instantly relatable. And hopefully, as it did for me, end with a heart warming feeling that these are things you can grow, evolve and learn from.

However, I do think I would have enjoyed this more if I haven’t read so much of Holly’s other work, or read this in such a close time frame to The Places I’ve Cried in Public, as they all begin to feel very similar. The relationship between Sophia and Aiden in this felt like a very watered down relationship to the one within The Places I’ve Cried in Public. This doesn’t mean that Holly can’t write about the same themes and topics more than once, but I find that her catalogue is beginning to feel like the same idea, over and over again.

3/5 stars.

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The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed

Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality

NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

I REPEAT, NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

Impromptu buddy read with my good friend Emer.

I’m going to write this review in a list like fashion because a) I like lists and b) it’s a lot easier that way cos I have a shit ton to say:

To start off with, I was really enjoying this book. I was loving the diverse rep of the different girls – it wasn’t your typical straight, white American, main characters. We had a mix of ethnicity’s, sexuality’s, body types, mental health/disabilities and social standings. It was wonderful seeing a mixture of diverse characters, with none of them feeling like the “token” diverse character. (However, there were some issues with this . . . will talk about this later).

I liked that the parents in this were also a mixture. We had the single parents, the absent parents, the loving parents. I liked that. But I had issues (I will talk about this later).

This contained fabulous conversations on self-worth and acceptance, on consent, etc. There was one part where they had a conversation with each other where the girls are having a group discussion and are sharing their different views on sex. For example, some feel like they just have to, even if they don’t enjoy it, that it’s required of them (they question if sex should be pleasurable for them). Others share that they like sex and aren’t ashamed of saying what they want. It was an interesting conversation, and I loved seeing them talk about it. These conversations are so important, and should be have. I think it’s a sad thing that so many schools shy away on these conversations when they’re needed.

I liked the friendship between the girls. They had their ups and downs but they were supportive and accepting of each other even if they don’t fully understand. I loved seeing that. They weren’t petty or hateful or spiteful of each other – and although this can happen in real life friendships, it was great to see positive and supporting friendships in a YA.

So to sum up: I liked the conversations this had on consent/sex, female friendships, diverse rep and female empowerment.

Things I disliked/had an issue with:

I mentioned in the beginning that I liked the diverse rep of characters. Part of this was that we had different characters with different social standings. We had the popular cheerleaders that defied usual YA stereotypes of them being the popular, bitchy, snobby mean girls. We had them humanised. They were friendly, supportive. Others took on some of the mean side and perpetuated some of the YA trope – where they fed in to misogynist ideas and slut shaming, but this added depth to their characters: we allowed to see them transform.

HOWEVER.

This isn’t the case with all the characters, this development only happens to a few. The rest. . . ugh. Most of the men in this book were horrible pieces of crap. Most of them couldn’t be trusted, they’d start off decent and then reveal their *true colours* which would be a freaking dirtbag. (And the ones who were good were just underdeveloped and bland. They were basically the stock good guys).

One character I keep thinking about, and each time getting increasingly mad about, is Amber. Amber lives in a trailer park, and everyone at school thinks of her as a ‘slut’ because shes ‘easy’. Amber has had sex with multiple men. They text her, and she hooks up with them. But this is the sad part. Amber feels like because she’s earned this reputation as a slut that she is, that she has to act like that. She expects it of herself, that she can’t be anything other than what everyone says she is. I really thought that throughout this novel Amber would go from having low self-worth and believing that she deserves the names she called and not truly understanding consent, to gaining more self-acceptance and self love and realising that she doesn’t have to have sex with boys because it’s expected of her. Sex should be something that she wants, that she can enjoy – she isn’t just an object for men to use.

That’s what I wanted her to realise. Except, her character just seemed to regress. As soon as she’s rejected she turns spiteful, mean, and lashes out at everyone, basically falling into the stereotype that everyone was saying she was. What I wanted from this rejection was for her to realise that not everyone sees her as a sexual object but as a human being who has other qualities, and for her to then realise that herself. But nope. She was just written as a spiteful bitch and then nothing else was said about her. She served her plot purpose and it felt disgusting. Why give her such a backstory like this if your only intention is to use her as a cheap plot device but not actually develop her character?? ugh. ugh. ugh. Why couldn’t she evolve to believing that she has more value than being used for sex?? but that sex can be positive and pleasurable and that having multiple partners doesn’t decrease her value. ughhhhh. hope that makes sense. Basically I didn’t like that some characters just fed in to harmful stereotypes. Why introduce them with such backstory’s that have such potential, but to then not?? Makes me rage.

So the parents. While I initially liked that they were a mixture, I eventually got fed up with them. They were so stereotypical. The harsh, overworked single mother. The mother who stays with her husband and fakes happiness but really just stays at home all day miserable with no outside life, and then the out-there hippie like parents (they were my favourites out of them, but still. UGH UGH UGH).

This also got very theatrical and over the top. The school was basically policed?? with like assault guns?? it was ridiculous?? The girls couldn’t even talk in groups, they were constantly getting detention and expelled for NO REASON. They were basically being framed by the adult/authority figures and treated like a bunch of criminals. It was just too over done for me. Especially at the end with them all crowding in the police station and screaming and crying and cheering…

Ugh. I don’t know. The ending was just rushed and therefore everyone felt underdeveloped, and everything too over dramatic in order to create *the feels* and have a big impactful ending. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work.

I just don’t know…for most of the book this was looking to be 4 stars and now I’m

 

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The Humans – Matt Haig

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW.

I REPEAT, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this novel, I really enjoyed some aspects but found it to be tiresome and lacking in other areas. This review will possibly contain spoilers so read with caution!

The Humans started off slowly – it took me a while to get in to the flow of the narrative style and to jump on board with our character. This book is told through the point of view of the ‘alien’ and he is essentially recounting his time on Earth in format of a book to the population of his home planet. Frequently questions are posed towards the reader (in this case the ‘alien’ species). What this does is take us – the actual reader – and places us in a different position: we, to this being, are the alien. And it makes us consider our position on Earth and the things we do that are the normal for us that to someone else from another planet would seem weird. For example: wearing clothes.

While this could be funny seeing him question and come to terms with humanity (such as realising spitting at people isn’t acceptable, going around to everyone and talking about achieving the ultimate orgasm) I eventually began to tire of it. Chapter after chapter begun to feel the same. You could take most of the chapters contents out and you still wouldn’t miss much of the story. I find that to be a problem, I feel like near on every chapter should mean something, not just a filler. I think this is because usually the type of books I read are quite action packed and work towards uncovering mystery or working to defeat a villain, and with this, while there was an objective, it wasn’t the main focus. Often the story just breached out in to discovering and unwinding humanity that I was wondering if we were ever going to get anywhere (i.e him getting in to trouble for not meeting his objective, etc).

This brings me to my main problem:

This book was very philosophical and romanticising in it’s prose. It seemed to try to take on a whimsical element, and sure, considering the origins of the character and the subject matter this seems like it could make sense. HOWEVER, I felt that it got too much, especially in terms of mental health. In the acknowledgements the author mentions his hard time with his mental health and how this book was the product of him working through that. Knowing that, you can see this reflected in the book. We basically have all these different versions of Andrew fighting against himself, we have the character, Gulliver, the son, dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. We have other characters from a mental hospital.

Gulliver, the son, tries to commit suicide by jumping off of a roof. He is miraculously saved by the healing powers, and since that moment it was hardly brought up again. It was dismissed, almost. No consideration of how this boy has serious mental health issues and needs professional help. I understand this wasn’t the main focus of the book, but I think if you’re going to use this as part of the plot line you treat it with care. It’s not “all of a sudden since being miraculously saved his problems disappeared”. Dealing with mental health takes work. It can’t just be magically “cured”

Also the scenes in the mental hospital I found difficult to swallow. To me it felt as if the character was like “lol maybe we’re all just crazy, it’s fine, it’s just because humans can’t understand themselves” and I just found that really insulting???? For someone who has mental health issues and who works on overcoming them I was like sureeeeee. To me it just seemed to then romanticise mental health as something cute and quirky – one person sprouts about Star Wars, someone else’s mental health basically makes their whole character – and I just didn’t like it.

So for me I found it to be too flowery and not raw enough. Yes, it’s not the focus of the book but if you want to explore this side of humanity you have to do it with a certain care. Such as the whole conversation on people being violent, the book seems to excuse violence as “well they’re not all bad all the time” “they fight the urges” “there’s more to humanity than that” like ok?? I get this is an alien but ugh.

So yeah – I just didn’t like the representation of certain elements.

What I did like about this book was that it was sometimes funny, it brought up interesting debates in to history and humanity: the problem is that not all of it managed to hit.

 

THREE STARS

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History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

I’m not really sure what I thought of this one. I guess, as always with hyped books, that I expected a lot more from this. I thought this book would rip my heart out of my chest and stamp onto, shattering it into a million pieces. But it didn’t. I can even say that I felt that sad. Maybe I don’t have a heart?

But I didn’t really care for Griffin’s relationship with Theo. Yeah, it was cutesy at times, but I couldn’t look past the fact that to Theo Griffin’s mental health was a cute ‘quirk’. I thought Theo’s treatment of Griffin in over areas where shitty as well. So I guess it was hard for me to be like “omg I ship this so hard” to then being sad over the fact that this OTP would NOT be endgame.

So I really don’t know. It was good. The writing was nice. I liked the change between history/present. But I can’t say this is a book that in a couple months I’ll be like “wow, that book was so good.”

Am I heartless??? Ahhh

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It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne

Audrey is over romance. Since her parents’ relationship imploded her mother’s been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do. But that doesn’t mean things are easy. Because real love isn’t like the movies…

The greatest love story ever told doesn’t feature kissing in the snow or racing to airports. It features pain and confusion and hope and wonder and a ban on cheesy clichés. Oh, and zombies… YA star Holly Bourne tackles real love in this hugely funny and poignant novel.

WARNING: SPOILERS

HOLLY BOURNE YOU GENIUS WOMAN.

I have had a great time with all the Holly Bourne novels I have read so far. My first read was Am I Normal Yet? which I absolutely loved and adored and encouraged me to finally seek help for my anxiety/ocd. I read that a time where I was doing my GCSE exams and my social anxiety went to an extreme, like pull your hair out kind of thing, and reading this book gave me that confidence to go and get help for it. #empowering

I am a feminist, so when I read What’s a Girl Gotta Do? And Lottie was doing and saying all the things I agreed with I teared up at parts because it was just like YES YES YES she gets it! She understands! Like yes! Call out this bullshit and educate!! Yes!! After I read that I felt extra EMPOWERED. It’s wonderful. And I want other girls, whether they’re young or old, to pick up a book like that and feel the same way. To feel empowered and unafraid to say “no” or to not smile, or to not conform to societal standards. To be THEM.

And now, I’ve read this. This takes on many issues, parental issues, self-harm, consent. It’s freaking feminist.

Now here is a side note: I hate that we have to actually call things “feminist”. Like oh “this is so freaking feminist”. And truly, feminist books can be ground breaking for defying rules laid out in literature that have deemed women characters as a certain way for hundreds of years. Look at that freaking literary canon, spot the women am I right? It just really angers me that we have to have this term for something like this, that we have to put a label on treating women like freaking human beings and letting them live their lives the way they want to. As Emer pointed out, it’s the same with diversity. When there’s diversity in a book we all applaud it because it’s like thank God, right? Thank God books are finally recognising there is something other than white men/hetero-normative relationships. But it’s so freaking upsetting that these things aren’t every day. That we can’t just read a book and naturally expect diversity / feminist views, you know??

Anyways, went slightly of track.

What I love about the way Holly Bourne writes is that she can talk about issues such as consent without it being preachy. It’s not like she sits there and is like right, I’m now going to lecture my audience on consent. No, she does it in an almost implicit way. She can make fun of it (god, the metaphors she used) but not in an offensive way. The humour she takes and the way it’s discussed doesn’t take away from the seriousness of what she is saying, but rather, you take in what she’s saying. And I think that’s brilliant. It’s not too heavy to scare people off from having these discussions (that some people have been brought up thinking talking about it is taboo) but also it’s not too light that it doesn’t get it’s point across. BRILLIANCE, I TELL YOU.

But my God, did I love this. I raced through this in just over three hours. It is WONDERFUL.

I guess if I had to criticise something it would be this: [I wish the situation with her mum was expanding upon. It’s mentioned when at the hospital that her mum would be seeing someone, and towards the end we get the sense that her mum is getting help and is getting better. I just feel like this would have been better if there could’ve been an actual conversation about what happened (the manic episodes, the alcoholism,
self-harm/suicide threats). However, the book doesn’t lose brownie points for not doing this.
I do think it leaves this off nicely, but maybe just could’ve done a little bit better. (hide spoiler)]

Also regarding the ending [I KNEW THEY WEREN’T GOING TO BE TOGETHER. I mean it literally freaking says it in the title pretty much. People only ever end up together like that in the movies. And how this book poked fun at every romance etc I was like Holly so isn’t going to give us the typical HEA (happily ever after) because that’s the point she’s trying to make. Not everything is that classic happily ever after, HOWEVER just because it’s not that doesn’t mean it can’t have a happy ending. And it was, I guess. Harry and Audrey ended things okay. I mean, do I wish they were together?? Yeah. Would it work out?? No. So I like it. And Audrey in that scene when she made that decision I was just like *thumbs up*. I don’t know, it was bittersweet. So I hate it, but I also love it. #walkingcontradiction. (hide spoiler)]

Also the female friendships in this. She has a great group of girl friends that are understanding and supportive and #Icry. That’s what I like to see.

I’m not sure if anyone else has read Our Chemical Hearts but this book sort of reminds me of that.

I think that’s all I have to say (Milo you can choke, Dougie I did want you to choke but not so much any more, Rosie you can also choke and burn in hell). I LOVED it. Well done Holly Bourne. Another great one. Now I’ve got to wait for my other buddy readers (Emer, Sam, Nkisha) to catch up so we can all talk about how epically awesome this is!

 

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A Semi-Definite List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

 

Thank you to Netgalley & the publisher for this in exchange for an honest opinion!

I was considering putting a quotation at the beginning of this review but I highlighted so, so, so much while reading this novel that I wouldn’t know what one to pick. I love Krystal Sutherland’s writing style. Her dialogue is witty and painfully honest. The characters feel honest and it’s easy to connect – for example, Esther’s casual inner commentary like “well, this isn’t going to go great,” just felt so honest, and real. I don’t really know how to explain – but it gave Esther such a strong voice. Sometimes it almost read like reading a recap of an event from a friend.

Once again, much like with Our Chemical Hearts, I like the way mental health is discussed. It isn’t romanticised at all, but rather shown to be a real and painful thing that effects everyone in different ways, but all of it horrible. It shows that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak about it but this novel deals with the fears of coming out with it.

I do think sometimes though it felt a bit dismissive – it was constant questioning of “do they have mental health issues? Is this a magic realist world? Should I be concerned she believes in this stuff?”

So yeah. I don’t think the line between it was always clear. Turns out, this does have some paranormal elements?? I think?? Like I said – I’m still not really sure and I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m one of those people with books like these that I want it to be defined – is this actually elements of the paranormal or just straight contemporary with a “wacky” character?

That’s also what’s great about this – the book kind of makes fun of itself. Several times Esther is called out because of how she is a “special snowflake” and she admits she wants to be one. While this is only a small dig at itself, because in the end it becomes to have a much greater relevance and heavier meaning towards plot/character development towards the end of the novel.

“You being scared of cornfields and alines doesn’t make you some special snowflake.
Everyone’s fear sounds the same in their head.”

“How dare you, I am a special snowflake.”

Everything did tie in nicely. I don’t feel like anything was added as a “filler” and that in the end everything made sense. You could see the links connecting things together.

On the other hand, I think more of these “links” should have been explored further. I.e the absentee parents and domestic abuse. Yes, this was semi-resolved towards the end and the realisation that “parents are human too” I feel like it should’ve had more to it.

There’s a lot of interesting discussions in this novel. There’s the obvious ones about mental health and how it can take over your life, and how people just want to fix it for you, but it’s not always that easy etc. But it also takes on interesting discussions about fear and what it means to live.

“It’s like a broken bone, you know? You can’t keep walking on it and expect it to heal.”

“Is this the surreptitious Esther Solar acknowledging the existence of mental illness and not just behaving like I’m cursed?”

That’s also what I love about this: the views uttered by the characters on mental health and how to deal aren’t always perfect. They can say harmful things and their outlook can sometimes be negative and wrong, but the great thing about this is the character development. These then negative opinions have been challenged / developed and I think that’s a beautiful thing. It’s showing that even if you’ve got it wrong before you have the chance to listen and to learn and to grow. The novel does this without ever feeling preachy.

Overall, I really liked it and I’m a definite fan of Krystal Sutherland.