Review: Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

Only Love Can Break Your Heart, by Katherine Webber

Pages: 400

Published: 2 August 2018

⭐️ 5 / 5

This review is LONG overdue considering I got an early copy at YA Prom and read this book 2 weeks before its publication… What can I say? Life just got away from me.

This novel was, at the time, one of the first contemporary YA novels I had read and was a large part of the reason I have continued to enjoy the genre. Only Love Can Break Your Heart was beautiful and heart breaking and I adored it.

Plot

I laughed, I cried, I screamed at the actions of the characters. This book had a bit of everything. This is a love letter to the Californian desert and a reminder of how important self-care is. It was really interesting to read a book written from the point of view of the popular girl at school. Usually, the YA novels I read follow the misfit finding their way in the world, but I liked this new angle.

Reiko’s struggle with grief is complex and Katherine Webber portrays this wonderfully. It was so real and tangible and heartbreaking. This book really showed how easy it is for life to get on top of you and for everything to unravel. This was the most honest portrayal of the sort of thing I went through during my ALevels and I would really have appreciated having this book at the time. Webber really illustrates the importance of having good friends and family around you to help build yourself up when you’ve reached a complete rock bottom.

I did find the plot a little slow to begin with however once I realised the direction we were heading in and things began to happen, the pace picked up and the novel was excellent.

Characters

For large parts of the novel I found Reiko and Seth to both be extremely unlikeable characters. However this allowed for some excellent character development and I experienced a complete turn around in my feelings towards the characters. The plot was so character driven it’s really hard to say more than I already have. I loved that about the book though.

Final Thoughts

This book was so much about the people and a gorgeous coming of age story I really wish that I’d had when I was 17 or 18. I’d highly recommend everyone to read it. With each novel Katherine Webber writes, she gets better and better so I cannot wait to read whatever she publishes next!

Blurb:

From the author of the acclaimed Wing Jones comes a ‘break-up’ book about a Japanese-American teenager, set in the Palm Springs desert, California.  Sometimes a broken heart is all you need to set you free… Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert.

It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can’t give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you…

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Holly Jackson

Pages: 448

Published: 2 May 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

I LOVED THIS BOOK. One of my favourites of 2019 and possibly my favourite YA thriller ever – so far anyway. Twists and turns galore, a very likeable protagonist, set in the UK school system(!!-instead of an American high school which as a Brit I still don’t fully understand)…this is a very clever novel and an enjoyable read. It’s also a big beefy paperback at roughly 450 pages which I really appreciated.

I’d highly recommend anyone who is enjoying YA crime/thriller/mysteries at the moment and schedule a (re)read before Pip is back in book 2 in April 2020!

Plot

A teenaged girl creating a school project to re-evaluate a local murder case? YES PLEASE. I was a bit apprehensive going in as it looked like a massive book for what is a fairly straightforward premise. I was expecting parts of the novel to drag but I was so wrong. The novel is structured around Pip’s school project which means there’s some really fun CSI-style fact presentation interspersed throughout the book. This meant I could keep up with all of the different plot threads, lines of investigation, and the many different characters. Interviews were often written in transcripts which, although I wasn’t too sure about at the beginning, I really enjoyed towards the end of the book and found it fit really well with the way the rest of the story was constructed. I felt that the novel was paced really well and that there was a great balance between investigation, school project, and tense drama. Tension and suspense was also built really well, especially towards the end. I loved that Pip was able to fit things together with her knowledge of school gossip and social hierarchies – the sort of techniques I used at school to figure out the gossip.

I was able to guess at a part of the outcome. I predicted it about halfway through (well, one half – a second half jumped out of nowhere and caught me unawares). However, just as I was revealed to be right, BAM. Sh*t hit the fan and it got SO. GOOD. I know plenty of people probably wouldn’t have seen the twists coming

Characters

Pip and Ravi are the main characters and they are both so damn likeable. Pippa is tenacious, intelligent, and utterly brilliant. Ravi is an excellent addition to the novel because he brings a whole new take to a murder mystery. He embodies the human element and reminds the reader that a murder isn’t just something to be solved for entertainment purposes. I love the relationship between Pip and Ravi because they are like two sides of the same coin: complete polar opposites, yet they work together as a dream team.

The rest of the characters, you can’t really call them ‘side characters’ because they’re all integral to the plot, are also really interesting and excellently 3-dimensional. Each of them became a possible chief suspect for me at some point of the book and Holly Jackson uses each of them very well to fulfill their full literary potential.

Final Thoughts

This was a very enjoyable read that really made me think and I can’t really say too much more without spoiling. To be honest, that’s a good thing as this is definitely a book you’re better off going in knowing next to nothing about and enjoying it with no preconceptions. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK.

Keep an eye out here on my blog as I’m planning a re-read or read-along feature in April on A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder ahead of the publication of the sequel.

Good Girl, Bad Blood will be published on 30 April 2020

Blurb:

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth . . .

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: One Of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

One Of Us Is Next, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 382

Published: 9 January 2020

⭐️ 5 / 5

YEESSSS. I’ve been waiting (very impatiently) for this book ever since it was announced. This is the sequel to Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, One Of Us Is Lying. This, as McManus writes in her acknowledgements, is the ‘Maeve book’, and I adored it! This is definitely my favourite out of the two One Of Us novels and I devoured it in 2 days. Here is my non-spoilery review – and I apologise in advance for the amount of shouty capitals I’m probably going to use. Grab a cup of tea and read on.

Plot

I was mildly concerned about how this book was going to pan out, mainly I didn’t think there was anything left to say after the conclusion to the first book. How on earth is a book like that supposed to be followed. I didn’t want a rehash with new characters – like the nightmare that is Grease 2…I had absolutely nothing to worry about! The mix of new characters is balanced perfectly with checking in on the Bayview Four and co. This allows us to catch up with our favourites to see how their life has moved on after the Simon drama, whilst also allowing One Of Us Is Next to stand on its own. This also builds Bayview more as we move away from the high school and further into the society and local community, which was really great.

We follow 3 point of view characters who start off as friends and/or loose acquaintances, and steadily become a firm friendship group with all the peaks and pitfalls that come with that. Maeve (Rojas! Yes, Bronwyn’s little sis), Phoebe, and Knox feel different to the Bayview Four as these 3 consciously choose to be friends whereas the Bayview Four were total strangers simply thrown together. (I promise I’ll try to stop the comparisons soon but it’s so difficult when the story doesn’t follow straight on). Their friendships really are at the heart of the plot as there’s a lot more ‘downtime’ for the characters in this sequel. Another thing that shines through and really sculpts the plot is sibling relationships in all of their forms. We see every spectrum of what that looks like from joined at the hip, to suffocated, overwhelmed, intimidated and feeling like you’ve got a tough act to follow, and siblings who cannot stand to be in the same room with one another. This book also radiates love. Sibling and family love, platonic friend love, and of course the mushy kind of love which made me CATCH ALL THE FEELINGS.

I really liked the premise of the school-wide truth and dare game, although I do question how on earth everyone’s phone numbers were retrieved and compiled – unless we assume everyone is able to access the school register as was used in One Of Us Is Lying. American readers, tell me: is this a normal thing?? In UK schools there’s no way anyone could gain access to student phone numbers except the school office and data prevention stops that kind of information from being shared. Honestly this is my one niggle with One Of Us Is Next because this isn’t answered even when we eventually find out the culprit. The truth or dare game builds suspense well in the first quarter of the novel, then the pace and tension fizzles out until all of a sudden it rears its ugly head and bites back. The London commuters who witnessed me finishing this book on the bus can attest to that following my very audible reactions…

The plot is very cleverly done and I don’t think I fully appreciated it until all the threads suddenly started dropping into place. At the end of chapter 28 I had it all figured out (still squealed my way through it despite heavily suspecting what was going on. Holy sh*t it was TENSE). And I almost got it completely right. Until one final twist. Damn Karen M. McManus and her genius. SO GOOD. Honestly this book is a masterclass in YA thriller/mystery and I NEED ANOTHER BOOK RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Characters

I really enjoyed our trio of POVs equally. They all had such different lives, personalities, and personal struggles and I loved exploring all of it. Maeve was a stand out favourite for me, but there was a reappearance from a minor One Of Us Is Lying character who steps up to not only become an almost key player but he’s shot straight up my list of fictional boyfriends 😂. It never fails to impress me how many of the side characters are complete, tangible, 3-dimensional characters. Even the parents of the new characters, who may only get a couple of scenes. We have a very good idea of their lives and what sort of people they are. The only exception would be one boy’s father who drops off the page for no apparent reason after stirring a hint of trouble, but I’m probably just being picky now.

I’ll also say it again: SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS. Love, love, love all of it. It’s wholesome and emotional and raw and it’s glorious.

Final Thoughts

PLEASE. READ. THIS. BOOK.

That is all.

Back to your cup of tea. ❤️

Blurb:

Welcome back to Bayview High… It’s been a year since the events of One Of Us Is Lying.But nothing has settled for the residents of Bayview. Not now someone has started playing a sinister game of Truth or Dare. Choose truth? You must reveal your darkest secret. Choose dare? Well, that could be even more dangerous. Even deadly. When the game takes an even darker turn, suddenly no one at Bayview High knows who to trust. But they need to find out who is behind the game, before it’s too late.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop

The ‘Maeve book’, the sibling book, the ‘YOU MUST READ THIS’ book! #OneOfUsIsNext

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

The Paper & Hearts Society, by Lucy Powrie

Pages: 400

Published: 13 June 2019

⭐️ 4 / 5

I do not mind admitting that I was very apprehensive before reading this book. I was concerned that yet another YouTube star had managed to infiltrate the book industry purely because an audience virtually guarantees sales. I was wrong. Very wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. More so than I think I’ve ever been about any book ever.

This book was my biggest surprise of 2019 and I will certainly be re-reading it in the run up to the release of book 2, Read With Pride, in the spring. Lucy Powrie is a refreshing new YA voice and has written a relatable book I desperately needed as a teenager (and it certainly hasn’t done me any harm as an adult either).

Plot

Two words: ROAD. TRIP. This book has given me so many ideas for literary trips this summer. Clearly a lot of thought had been put into this and we were able to see each of the characters completely nerd-out with such a range of literary interests that every reader could be catered for. This was very cleverly woven around each of the characters’ own personal plots and provided a joyous backdrop to what were some important life lessons. The heart of this story lies with friendship, and this beams out of every page. This is also a story about the dangers of online bullying and how difficult it is to grow up in this new digital age where moving towns isn’t enough to escape your school tormentor. I really enjoyed this novel and would highly recommend it to teens, young adults, and all book lovers of any age.

Characters

These characters are the perfect fictional besties (for the reader and each other)! Olivia is a total bae. She has everyones best interests at heart and has always got everyone’s backs. She’s a ray of sunshine. She’s intelligent and tries to make everybody feel like part of the crowd and honestly we all need someone like that in our life. Cassie is guarded and dealing with a whole host of life mess but once she can trust someone they are a friend for life. I really appreciated that Lucy was able to portray a character like this because I think it’s far too much of a stereotype that people who are guarded do not have friends and this simply isn’t true. The boys are the sort of characters I wish existed in real life because I am yet to come across any guy as decent as them 😂. Tabby is a very likeable protagonist. She’s flawed, and struggling, and brilliant, and strong. Each of the characters are so different yet what brings them together is their love for the written world, no matter how different their tastes are, and that is really beautiful.

The dynamic of the friendship group and all the joy and pitfalls that come with it, is done really well. Lucy easily tackles complicated teen issues that I think many of her readers will be experiencing, or have experienced during their teen years. She has also ensured that her characters are diverse, including a demi-sexual character making this this first book I have read which represents this section of the LGBTQ+ community. This representation is done without the bells and whistles and box-ticking I have seen in other novels (looking at you specifically, Miss Fletcher). Instead, Lucy includes this in the way it should be; like its the most normal thing in the world and therefore doesn’t warrant a song and dance to prove its existence in the book. There are several authors I can think of that could do with taking a leaf out of her book in making novels inclusive in such a thoughtful, common-sense fashion, without shoehorning elements into a narrative just ‘because’.

Final Thoughts

This book was joyous, thought provoking, and a celebration of books and reading and friendship. It’s the love song to awkwardness and never changing yourself to fit in. It’s a warning of the dangers of online bullying. It’s golden.

GIVE ME THE NEXT ONE PLEASE AND THANK YOU.


Read With Pride will be published on 28 May 2020.


Blurb:

Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in. She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people …Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body. But Olivia, Cassie, Henry and Ed have something that makes Tabby come back. Maybe it’s the Austen-themed fancy-dress parties, or Ed’s fluffy cat Mrs Simpkins, or could it be Henry himself … Can Tabby let her weird out AND live THE BEST BOOKISH LIFE POSSIBLE?

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha – book 1)

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 352

Published: 5 June 2012

⭐️ 4 / 5

This book (and the entire series actually) has been on my shelf and my TBR for a long time. I bought all 3 books in the series several years ago and they’ve been sat on my bookshelf ever since. Towards the end of 2019 I finally got around to them, after uni destroyed my love of reading almost irreparably, and I am so glad I am now on this bandwagon.

Warning: technically there is a small plot spoiler below in the form of a relationship but honestly if you don’t see it coming from the first page, I don’t know what to tell you…

Plot

This is a novel about discovering yourself and carving your own path. When Alina discovers a magic (and by extension, a strength) she didn’t know she had, she’s whisked away with people she doesn’t know to a place she doesn’t know where she doesn’t fit in and is not accepted. She is forced to leave behind the only person she knows, her best friend Mal, and it’s like she’s orphaned all over again. The fact that Alina has to learn about herself as one of the Grisha is really effective in terms of worldbuilding. The reader is able to learn as Alina is forced to learn. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that has a magic system, which I really enjoyed. It’s been very well constructed considering in theory the Grisha can only control one of 3 different things but their own grasp of their power dictates just how much they can do. Another thing I really enjoyed about the worldbuilding is that there was mention of other countries meaning the world extends beyond Alina’s immediate environment. It feels like we are going to explore some of this later in the series, which I really hope is the case.

The description of the Fold is really striking and I love that the metaphorical darkness seen in most fantasies is a literal threat in this series. It’s interesting to explore this concept and the reason the Fold exists. I think it gives the opportunity to remind ourselves of the child-like vulnerability that comes with being afraid of the dark, only this time there really are monsters lurking beyond your vision.

We do get to see a fair amount of Ravka in Shadow and Bone as Alina (and eventually Mal) head out on a nation-wide quest. One strength of this being done is that the reader was able to see ‘normal’ life in this world as opposed to the military or magic lives we’d experienced before. This also meant the reader was able to get to know these characters fairly well as, for the most part, they were alone. I did feel that some of the difficulties they faced on this journey were unnecessary though. Each of them should have been for a specific character-building or story arc purpose however a couple of instances felt like they were just included to give them something to do and to distract them from the slow-burn realisation of their feelings towards each other.

Characters

I found Alina, our protagonist, to be very relatable. She really struggles with wanting to fit in despite being literally born to stand out. She desperately wants to cling on to anything familiar and can’t handle how much her life is changing. She feels crushed by the pressure of failure and letting others down, which is mostly her own exacerbated impression of what her role in Ravka’s future could be. Mal flits between irritating me and being the character I enjoy most on the page. He’s a moody sod and an utter gem. Part of me thinks he is unfair to Alina, part of me understands because she is not exactly the model character in her behaviour either. I love that they’re both so messy and both trying so hard. Bardugo writes them both beautifully and I love that she has created two characters that I can absolutely root for.

I really enjoyed The Darkling as a character. He is so complex and layered. I loved to love him and I loved to hate him too. He has far more potential than we saw in this book so I am really excited to see where he goes in the rest of the series.

I also have to give a special mention to Baghra. What a babe. She has so much more depth to her that just the grumpy old woman she is on the surface. Her wisdom runs deep and I have to say she really surprised me. I hope we see more of her as the series progresses.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a great start to a series. The ending left me desperate to read the sequel straight away which leaves me thankful that I waited so long to start this series. There’s nothing better than a book binge if you have the patience to wait years for a series to end before you start.

Let me know what you thought of this book/series below! Keep an eye out for my review of Siege and Storm soon.

Blurb:

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed. Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite – and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation. Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep A Secret, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 336

Published: 10th January 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

After reading One Of Us Is Lying, I was excited to read another Karen M. McManus book as soon as possible. I would go as far to say that she is a contender for one of my favourite authors. I love that crime/thriller/mystery (a genre I LOVE) is starting to appear as a leading sub-genre of young adult and it’s being done SO WELL. McManus is leading the charge with excellently written YA mysteries and I hope she’s publishing books annually for a long time to come. Those of you who have read my review for One Of Us Is Lying will know that I really enjoyed it, and I preferred this novel so get ready for me to blow the trumpets at Two Can Keep A Secret!

Plot

Two Can Keep A Secret is told from two narrative points of view: Ellery, niece of a girl who vanished during her senior prom decades ago; and Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect in the murder of a second prom queen 5 years ago. This worked really well for weaving the plot threads of the two previous unsolved murders into the central action of this novel. I usually struggle with multiple narrators because I tend to favour one and resent having to endure the other POV, however McManus uses this to build tension and set the pacing which drove me mad – a clear indication of a good mystery novel for me. I got the sense of multiple timelines without time jumping (which is another trope I dislike for the most part and was glad it was so expertly worked around) giving me 3 murder mysteries for the price of one. The choice of narrators was also very cleverly calculated as this expanded the world building. Although Ellery and Malcolm were friends, they didn’t cross over too much meaning that we could explore more of the town through each of our narrators. The small-town setting was done really well and used very well too. Coming from a small(ish) town myself, I felt the local drama/curtain twitching/nosey neighbour elements of the plot were very accurate and added to the mystery as you’re left wondering how such a busy-body community could be harbouring so many unsolvable secrets. I got absolutely lost in this novel and easily polished it off in one sitting, which I would happily do again and again. Honestly, I did guess part of the outcome around half way through (far later than I did with One Of Us Is Lying though) however there were plenty of other twists that I didn’t predict. This book was definitely a firm favourite YA Murder Mystery read of 2019 for me.

Characters

I really enjoyed the point of view of both POV characters. Ellery was very relatable for me as a fellow true-crime addict. I love that fictional young women obsessed with true crime and murder mysteries are starting to emerge in novels, especially in this section of YA. It’s nice to see myself in books – and come on, we all secretly adore serial killer documentaries don’t we 😉 ? She’s a feisty, intelligent character and we need more Ellerys in our fiction. Ellery and her twin Ezra have an excellent rapport/banter going on and McManus has written this sibling relationship very well. Malcolm is the second POV character and I honestly just want to give him a hug. Mia finishes off the 4-strong friend squad that’s central to the novel and she is a diamond of a character too. The extended cast include popular Katrin, who happens to be Malcolm’s step sister, work colleague Brooke, and the twins’ gem of a grandmother. Each of the characters are fully realised and flawed and believable. McManus constructs an air of suspicion around each of them too which constantly played with my opinions of them. I really hope she finds a way back to these characters as she has with Bayview High and One Of Us Is Lying.

Final Thoughts

I hope this somewhat lengthy review conveys just how great this book was. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ve given for all of my 2019 reads, and a book I fully intend to re-read this year too. Keep an eye out for my next Karen M. McManus book review this month as I read One Of Us Is Next after its release this week!

Blurb:

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Two teenagers are dead. Two murders unsolved. And a killer who claims to be coming back. Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news and where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted them to Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but it could all change when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. And the return of Malcolm’s brother doesn’t help matters. But his return is just a coincidence… isn’t it? Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears. As they race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Review: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 368

Published: 1 June 2017

⭐️ 4 / 5

Breakfast Club meets Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars. Karen M. McManus’s debut novel is an excellent read and if this is the first book she has published, we really are in for a treat in years to come. This is a young adult thriller told from multiple points of view. A group of teenagers all find themselves in detention and are thrown into a classic ‘who dunnit’ when one of them drops dead in an unpleasant way. Prepare to question everything you’ve ever known about contemporary YA.

Plot

This book was so readable. I inhaled it in a single 4 hour sitting. Personally, having read a lot of thrillers/murder mysteries, I had the murderer pegged from the first couple of chapters as all the clues are there if you’re looking hard enough. However, McManus had me questioning everything. This woman knows how to write an excellent mystery. I’ve never found myself so backwards and forwards, I doubted myself so many times whilst reading the twists and turns. I still received the ‘big reveal’ moment as towards the end I was ready to throw out my entire theory before I finally had it confirmed, even if I did roll my eyes at it a little. Honestly the storytelling and plot weaving was masterful and impressive, albeit a little trope-heavy at times. Although this book is very clearly a young adult novel, it is definitely something that adults can enjoy. My 80-year-old grandmother read this and really enjoyed it too.

The plot is largely comprised by the daily lives of the teenagers involved in the case. It was very refreshing that the whole ‘who dunnit’ investigation wasn’t the sole focus, rather an undercurrent that carried the rest of the plot aloft. The focus was the kids. This allowed for lots of character development which I really enjoyed. The pacing of the narrative was executed well and the change of narrative point of view was perfectly spaced for me. I usually have a massive problem with changing POV (it all started with Twilight and then Divergent ruined it further…). It really toyed with me and increased the tension. McManus is very good at building suspense and tension, the last couple of chapters, especially, really had me going. I fell into that kind of reading trance where I could barely hear what was going on around me.

There are several very adult themes that are tackled in this book so I would certainly recommend caution with younger teens reading this, however I could have done with a book like this at the age of around 13 – 14 or so to at least discuss this sort of content. The story could certainly serve as a loosely educational tool. Mental illness including depression is a central theme and one of the characters has to deal with being outed as gay against their will. I personally believe both of these themes were handled well, however I’ve seen some mixed reviews including suggestions that portrayals of these storylines were ignorant and damaging. I suppose we all experience things differently so if you’re worried about these ideas, I’d suggest looking at some other reviews.

Characters

Each of the 4 point-of-view characters is the embodiment of a high school/secondary school stereotype. Bronwyn is the straight-A geek, Nate is the ‘bad boy’, Addy is the bimbo Prom Queen, and Cooper is the jock. Conforming to further stereotypes, the dead boy Simon is the awkward misfit who is held in mild contempt by most of his classmates. McManus challenges each of these initial stereotypes and gives the characters nuanced characterisations, and at the same time really captures the struggles of growing up and navigating everything I hated about being a teenager at school. Bronwyn, I loved because I could see my own damaged teenage self through her. Her character grew so much despite all the crap she was going through. Nate was a very heavy bad boy stereotype however I felt like this was unpacked incredibly well and he actually ended up being one of my favourite characters of the book. The turn-around was huge. Each of the characters’ secrets, held against them by the dead character Simon, were slowly revealed throughout the book in a Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl style move. I could have done with some of the secrets emerging slightly earlier on in the book, mostly because I’m impatient, however this allowed for the red herrings that I enjoyed for all the problems they caused.

Aside from the main group of characters, I found the smaller players in the plot to be very fleshed out and the whole cast and school were very tangible. I was completely sucked into all of their lives and could really imagine this sort of drama in my own secondary school (and trust me, there was plenty of drama going around there…). Even Simon, the victim in this novel, is a fully realised character which I appreciate for a character who died in the first half a dozen pages.

Final Thoughts

I am really looking forward to reading the sequel in the New Year and kicking off 2020 with an excellent book!

This is easily one of the best YA murder mystery thrillers I’ve read, ever, let alone just in 2019. I’d highly recommend this for a quick, entertaining read if you want a book you’re motivated to read in a single sitting. If you’ve read it, let my know your thoughts in the comments below!

Blurb:

Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive. Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he’s doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life. And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won’t ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it’s no accident. All of them are suspects. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you’ll go to protect them.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

Look out for my review of One of Us is Next: Coming at the end of January!

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Legendary, by Stephanie Garber

Pages: 432

Published: 29th May 2018

⭐️ 3 / 5

Welcome, welcome! To the second installment of Caraval (if you know, you know). Those of you who read my last review will know I was left very underwhelmed and hoping that the series greatly improved. My main gripe was that the writing didn’t live up to the potential of the plot or world that Garber has created. Luckily book two has picked up slightly but I’m by no means anywhere near as impressed as I expected to be.

Plot

This was certainly a marked improvement on Caraval but still far below any hype that this series has been afforded. The plot this time centres around finding Scarlett and Tella’s mum, which honestly by the half way point I was starting to reach How I Met Your Mother levels of frustration. We still followed the same sort of layout of the Caraval game which yet again made the plot incredibly repetitive, and not in any way I could see was remotely useful for the story. The one thing that kept me interested was the threat of the Fates reappearing and, annoyingly, the constant will-they-won’t-they of Tella and Dante. I really ship them and I’m a little bit disappointed in myself for it.

Characters

Tella and Dante are honestly the saving graces of this entire series. They are layered and somewhat fleshed-out to the bare minimum I would like to see in any novel I read. They are at least a much better pair than Scarlett and Julian. Tella is feisty, determined and sassy and the only character that stirs any interest beyond the basic plot. Otherwise, I actually prefer the ensemble characters. They’re about as 2 dimensional as Scarlett and Julian so really its a contest of the least irritating, which falls to the likes of Aiko, Jovan, and Jacks. Legendary introduced a few new characters who I ended up enjoying and Jacks was definitely one of them. He became a big player in this book and I’m sure will be in the final instalment too.

Final Thoughts

Caraval‘s sequel is a definite improvement but the series is still sitting in the overall category of disappointment, I’m afraid to say. I will be reading the concluding part of the series however as unfortunately I’m completely unable to DNF a series I’ve fought this far through… Never mind.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of this series or if you’ve ever been disappointed by a book(s).

Blurb:

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win. After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name. The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more – and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets… including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about – maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 10

Let It Snow, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

“Christmas is never over,unless you want it to be… Christmas is a state of mind.” 

– Lauren Myracle, The Patron Saint of Pigs, Let It Snow
Continue reading “12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 10”

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Pages: 416

Published: 31 January 2017

⭐️ 2.5 / 5

(TW – This book contains themes of abuse and rape)

This debut YA fantasy oozes magic and potential. The plot grips from the beginning, with its setting of a magical fantasy island and two sisters who immediately seem to have each other’s backs in the abusive family setting they begin with. The concept is very intriguing with a game set up like a circus, including troops of travelling performers, with a prize that money truly can’t buy. The allure of the mysterious character, Legend, and Scarlett and Tella’s unravelling family history are threaded through the narrative keeping you wanting to turn the next page as quickly as possible. This drive became very important motivation for me as I found Garber became repetitive. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be some sort of reinforcement as a plot device, but it quickly became irritating and the outcomes became very predictable as a result. The plot threads kept me going and allowed me to enjoy the book for the most part, however at times it felt like this book had middle-grade writing but with YA / NA themes.  

The detail Stephanie Garber has put into the magic of this world is immense and is a huge strength of this book. The particular detail put into the outfits really is something else – and I’d really like to get myself one of those shape-shifting dresses. Caraval is narrated in third person but following Scarlett’s point of view which sees her describing emotions in terms of colours. Initially this is an interesting plot device and one that I really enjoyed, however the further through the book I got the more this became irritating as it seemed that was the only tool Garber was using. This is such a shame because the plot, and elements of the writing, carry so much potential which I feel is unfulfilled.

Garber has created some complex, layered characters which the book really benefits from. Julian is a particular favourite of mine. I spent a lot of the book simply trying to figure him out. His motivations, who he was…my opinions and theories were all over the place and it was great. Scarlett however, is a wet flannel of a character. She has no agency and spends the entire novel dithering. It’s not endearing, and this trait seems to serve no purpose. She doesn’t falter between two options rather she can’t decide whether to do something or do nothing at all. A quarter of the novel could be cut if this was all removed and she just got on with things. This doesn’t change throughout the book and I can detect no sort of character development in her. I hope this doesn’t continue throughout the series because the events that happen to Scarlett are character shaping and changing so should mould her into an excellent character. Tella is a FAR more interesting character however she is hardly in this book at all. Again, I hope this will change moving forwards in the series.

Despite my reservations and irritations about Caraval, I will be reading the rest of this series to see where things go. At its heart this book is geared towards being a heartwarming story about the love between sisters however so far, for me, this has not lived up to the hype.

Blurb:

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.
Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year, week-long performance where the audience participates in the show. Caraval is magic, mystery adventure and for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father. When Scarlett discovers her father has arranged a marriage for her she believes all her hopes of escape have been dashed.
Then the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive and it seems their dreams have come true. Yet, no sooner have they entered the confines of Caraval than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.
Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. Real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.