As if we weren’t already reading enough books in April, we decided to take part in the Stay Home edition of The Reading Rush from the 16th to the 19th. Adding three more books to an already bursting TBR might not have been the best…
I have a NetGalley addiction. I check the site at least twice a day, and I request something nearly every single time I’m on there. I’ve tried – oh, I have TRIED – to stop myself, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything I can do that will work.
Because of this, I have an awful lot of books on my NetGalley which I haven’t read or reviewed. In 2020, I’m challenging myself to start actively tackling the backlog, so I’ve made myself a TBR jar filled solely with the Ghosts of NetGalley Past. I’m planning on picking at least five titles out each month, and I took my first handful while filming my February TBR, so now that I’ve finished them all I thought I would share my thoughts with you. Was the jar kind to me?
The Sham by Ellen Allen
Last year my boyfriend taught me how to DNF books I really wasn’t enjoying, and that skill came in handy within the first few chapters of The Sham (I DNF’d it at 6% after struggling to get even that far).
Bitchy mean girls forcing an autistic boy to bite the head off of a bird, soiling himself in the process because he was so frightened? No thank you.
That’s not saying anything about how terrible the writing was. The mean girls were called Becky, Rebecca, Kitty and Cath. How are you supposed to tell them apart?!
I’ll be honest, the first chapter/prologue thing was vaguely interesting, with Emily’s boyfriend Jack murdering a girl in a rather bloody and very graphic way, but it just proved to me that the blurb for The Sham was so far off. It made it sound like The Fault in Our Stars with a bad boy, alluding to the fact that Emily’s boyfriend was very sick (but also accused of murder!) when in fact the murderous part of him is confirmed pretty dang quickly.
I also hated the fact that Emily refused to share the identity of which one of the mean girls he killed, called them ‘Dead Body and friends’… I mean, I hated all of the mean girls very quickly, so I’m more disappointed that he didn’t kill all of them.
Apparently Ellen Allen was inspired by a nightmare to write this, and this is the kind of horror-filled awfulness that should have probably stayed in her head.
It’s still the only novel she’s ever released… I’m quite glad about that, because she’s definitely an author I was not going to be trying out again.
The Messenger by Pamela DuMond – 2 stars
After Madeline is accidentally pushed off of a train platform, she finds herself waking up in 1675 in the midst of a battlefield in King Philip’s War. With colonists dead around her and a bloody gash on her forehead, Madeline – known in colonial times as Abigail – is the only survivor, but she’s certain that she must be dreaming. How can she have fallen over 300 years back in time?
However, for someone who has woken up in a different time period she’s remarkably chill. Almost running away within the first couple of days, she soon gives up and settles down, blindly accepting the wisdom of a local woman who claims that she is a Messenger. Next thing you know, Madeline is falling in instalove with a colonist called Samuel, learning how to tend fires and helping her ‘cousin’ Elizabeth with running the schoolhouse. All’s well that ends well.
But it’s not quite that easy. Next thing you know Madeline is being stalked by a Hunter who knows she is a Messenger and is desperate to get revenge. Despite the fact that Madeline has had no training at all, she – SPOILER ALERT – manages to miraculously save her life by teleporting back to modern day times, where she bumps into modern day Samuel and seconds later is confronted by the man who is hunting her… And then the book just ends.
Honestly, I was tempted to give The Messenger three stars because even though it was a bit cliched I really enjoyed the concept and I thought the plot was nice and absorbing, but the last few chapters just really annoyed me. The book starts with a flashforward and I’d been looking forward to finding out how Madeline found herself in such a situation, but it didn’t feel authentic when it got there. It also doesn’t help that Madeline makes it sound as though she’s been trained as a Messenger, when in all reality she’s only been given a couple of pieces of advice – I wouldn’t even call them ‘lessons’ as such, and as a reader you still have no real knowledge of how Messengers work (or Hunters or Healers, who are touched upon very briefly).
The ending was rushed, and leaving it on such a hammy cliffhanger irritated me, particularly as it ends under 75% into the NetGalley version which I was reading – the last 25% is a preview of one of Pamela DuMond’s other books, and it isn’t even a sampler of the second book in the Mortal Beloved series! I felt a little cheated and was really glad that I hadn’t spent money on this book, and it’s certainly made me think twice about continuing on with the series: these books are short enough, without making the last fifty pages part of a completely different story.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen – 1 star
I’m not sure whether I’ve been too harsh on The Lost Letters of William Woolf, but this is definitely a book with a great concept and poor execution.
William Woolf works in the Dead Letters Depot, a place where undeliverable post is sent in the hopes that one of the workers will be able to solve the mystery of that smudged address or that incorrect postcode. William spends most of his time up on the fourth floor in the ‘Supernatural Division’, tackling letters to Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, and when he stumbles across a letter from a lady called Winter addressed to her Great Love, he begins to wonder whether it could have been meant for him.
Now, I thought that concept sounded really cute – a lonely single male finding love in a postbag – but when I started reading it I discovered William is married. Now, his relationship with Clare is in a bad place before he discovers Winter’s letters, but it certainly changed the direction that I thought this story was going to take. He’s emotionally cheating on Clare, fantasizing about finding this girl and being her true love, and I just can’t get on board with that. Yes, Clare does some horrible things, but I think William is a bit of a hypocrite for acting all high and mighty when he’s not that much better than her.
Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers for how the book ends, but I just couldn’t with the final couple of chapters.
William reads one of Winter’s letters and discovers she is getting married, so he goes to the church, AFTER writing a letter to Clare telling her that he really wants them to give things another go. What, so if you can’t crash the wedding of a woman you’ve been effectively stalking by reading private letters which you shouldn’t really have opened, you’ll settle for your wife?! Meanwhile Clare has been pretty adamant throughout the whole book that she doesn’t want a baby, and in a cheap, throwaway epilogue – One Year and One Day Later – we join Clare in her art studio. She’s sporting a huge baby bump, reading The Lost Letters of William Woolf (#inception) until a MYSTERY MAN walks in. I mean, if my husband and I split up and I was having a baby with somebody else I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be reading my ex’s book, so it’s not really that much of a question about who she ended up with…
I think I would have been able to give The Lost Letters of William Woolf two stars if my expectations hadn’t been so high. It doesn’t help that it starts off really strongly – William goes on little cross-country adventures to reunite people with precious items which have been lost in the post, and these chapters absolutely flew by – but things go downhill so quickly. I would have preferred reading William’s own book, which he writes about the most interesting lost letters he has encountered in his career: that definitely would have been a five star read!
The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green – 3 stars
Sally Green’s Half Bad is one of my favourite books of all time, which is why I have been constantly putting off reading The Smoke Thieves. I just couldn’t see it living up to Green’s debut, and my expectations for this one were through the roof.
Unfortunately, I was right.
My main issue with The Smoke Thieves is that there are too many viewpoints. As you can see from the cover, we follow a princess, a soldier, a hunter, a traitor and a thief, and only three out of the five kept me engaged.
I wasn’t interested at all in Princess Catherine or Ambrose – they are torn apart too early in the novel for me to feel invested in their separation or any kind of desperation for them to be reunited – and I found myself internally groaning every time I encountered another one of Catherine’s chapters. This a world where there is a lot of misogyny, but the scenes where males were talking down to Catherine and disrespecting her because of her gender were ones which I felt I’d read a thousand times before. I did appreciate the fact that each of her chapters started with a quote from a piece of literature from the world as it fleshed the setting out very nicely, but I think this would have had more of an impact if she’d done the same with all of the characters.
On the other hand, I absolutely flew through all of Tash’s chapters. She’s the female half of a demon-hunting duo and all she wants is to get paid so she can buy herself a pair of boots she’s been coveting. It’s a very simplistic motivation, but it does its job – that pair of boots pushes the plot in some action-packed directions! Not only that but Green has obviously thought through the way that she wants her demons to work, and it’s refreshing to see such a different version of them – I’ve never seen anyone else’s story feature dying demons releasing a smoke which people use to get high!
I also really loved March and Edyon. March is the last member of a race which was wiped out during the war between Princess Catherine’s father and her uncle, who we discover is Edyon’s father. The dynamic between the two of them is very interesting: Edyon is instantly attracted to March so he’s very flirty throughout the majority of their interactions, while March has no idea how to feel because he’s not planning on taking Edyon home to his father after all, meaning their entire relationship is built on a lie. I’m hoping this is going to be a slow burn romance which will be exploring throughout the other two books in the series, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens when March’s original plan is revealed.
The Smoke Thieves is a very strong start to the trilogy, but I think the success of the series is going to depend on how things continue. I’m looking forward to reading The Demon World, and I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it a bit more now that my expectations have been lowered.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner – 4 stars
The last TBR jar pick that I picked up in February was The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, and thankfully this ended up being the highest rated of the five books in the first round.
Following two sisters called Liba and Laya, The Sisters of the Winter Wood is an ambitious debut novel. Their mother is a swan and their father is a bear, and throughout the course of The Sisters of the Winter Wood Liba and Laya discover that they take after their parents, making this a coming-of-age tale which is chockablock with magical realism.
Not only that, but Rena Rossner tackles the plight of the Jews, who are being shunned in a small town following the death of one of the local girls. Animosity is already in the air, but when a group of fruit sellers sets up in the local market – all non-Jewish boys, one of whom starts wooing Laya – their racist attitudes cause tensions to be raised, and an impending pogrom seems certain.
One of the things I liked the most about The Sisters of the Winter Wood was the difference between Laya and Liba’s viewpoints. Liba is very logical and follows all of her parents rules so her perspective is written in prose, but Laya has her head in the clouds (quite literally, she is a swan after all!) and is much less restrained, which means it makes perfect sense that her chapters are written in verse. The contrast between the styles makes it easy to tell the difference between the characters, making this one of the first dual perspective novel I haven’t had to pause while reading to remind myself who I’m currently following.
However, the reason I couldn’t give this five stars is because there are a lot of gaps in the story where one character will pass out while the other isn’t present and you’ll suddenly time jump to when they’re back together, meaning there are times when you feel you’ve missed a chunk and get a bit disoriented. All in all, this is a very strong debut novel and I’m definitely interested in seeing what Rena Rossner writes next (whenever her second novel gets announced!).
So, as you can see, my first round of TBR jar picks was pretty unsuccessful. I’ve hardly ever DNF’d anything, so for my first choice to end up being a DNF was so unlucky!
Hopefully the books I picked out in my March TBR video will be more enjoyable…
Let me know your thoughts on any of these books down below, and I’ll see you soon,
Hello, and welcome to my stop on the Foul is Fair blog tour. It has been a whopping six months since I last took part in a blog tour – I know, where has the time gone?! – but when Meghan from Wednesday Books reached out and invited me to take part in this tour I couldn’t resist.
If you haven’t heard of Foul is Fair I’ll be surprised, because it’s shaping up to be one of the most talked about 2020 YA releases. Marketed as a modern take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I’ll tell you a little more about what goes on in Foul is Fair before I share my personal thoughts on the book with you.
Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.
Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.
They picked the wrong girl.
Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.
The first thing it feels necessary to say is this: if you don’t like reading about sexual assault or violence, this is definitely not the book for you. The entire story centres around Jade being raped at a party and, although the rape isn’t graphically described and doesn’t happen on the page, it’s still not the most comfortable thing to read.
‘Every teenage girl thinks she and her friends are the mean girls, the ice queens, the wicked witches, but Jenny and Summer and Mads and me – we’re what they wish they were.
Everyone knows what the St. Andrew’s Prep boys get up to at the notorious parties they throw and their behaviour goes unchallenged. In fact, it’s a bit of a joke. One of the boys posts comments on their public Instagram pages alluding to their lewd behaviour, but they’ve still never experienced any repercussions.
Foul is Fair is a pull no punches attack on rape culture. The morning after she is attacked, Jade gathers her coven around her and tells them how she wants to get her revenge: by killing all of the people who hurt her. Not only the boys who put their hands all over her and used her body without her permission, but the ones that allowed them to get away with it. The boy who stood outside and guarded the room they were in. The girl who left her alone with them, knowing exactly what they were going to do. The boy who crushed up a pill and spiked her drink.
And, if she can ever remember what he looks like, the boy who handed the drink to her.
This was an empowering novel. No, I’m not suggesting that you get revenge on the people who wrong you by murdering them, but you can’t lie and tell me that you’ve never been tempted.
I thought it was brilliant to see a character who had experienced something traumatic and wasn’t excluding everyone around them and keeping it to themselves. Before they even leave the party Jade has told her friends what she has experienced, and they support her unquestioningly. She then tells her parents the next morning, telling them that she wants to be able to deal with it herself, which they accept.
Quietly supportive parents in YA are rare – either parents don’t appear at all or they want the character to deal with their ordeal the way they think they should, rather than the way that they want to – and I thought this was one of the best things about Foul is Fair (along with the fact that Jade goes to the hospital to get checked out – something that is weirdly overlooked when characters experience sexual assault).
So many of the little choices Capin made elevated this novel. Mads is trans, while Jenny is in love with Summer (even though Summer doesn’t know it yet) and it’s great to read a story featuring LGBTQ+ characters whose identities are simply accepted.
As you can tell, there were a lot of things I appreciated about Hannah Capin’s second novel, but the one reason I didn’t give it five stars was because of the “mystery” surrounding the identity of the final boy. If you don’t guess it within the first couple of chapters I’ll be surprised, and I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to believe that Jade herself wouldn’t have figured it out faster.
This book is wacky in the best kind of way, and it’s hard to resist gasping in shock at the audacious things Jade gets up to in her quest for revenge. Despite the dark subject matter Foul is Fair is a highly entertaining read, and if you’re someone who enjoys reading Shakespeare you’ll have fun seeing the clever ways that Hannah Capin brings the story into the modern age. It definitely feels like there must be a sequel on the way, and I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to picking it up.
For fans of: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, Undone by Cat Clarke
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Foul is Fair, you can get it directly from Wednesday Books here.
About the author:
Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.
Thank you so much for visiting my stop on the Foul is Fair blog tour. See you soon!
Boy howdy, it has been a while. I’ve been vaguely reviewing over on Goodreads, but it wasn’t until I was looking through NetGalley this morning that I realised that there are so many books on there that I’ve read and just haven’t had a chance to review yet.
This edition of Rapid Reviews is gathering together eight titles from NetGalley that I really should have reviewed months ago, but I still don’t have a lot of time to blog so I’m only going to put my main thoughts down about each one.
Here goes nothing…
All We Could Have Been by T.E. Carter – 3 stars
All We Could Have Been didn’t come across as very realistic to me. Lexie constantly spoke in metaphors, making her the second most pretentious YA character I’ve come across (the first prize going to Augustus from The Fault In Our Stars), and the way the other characters reacted to Lexie’s past wasn’t authentic. I’ve known people who have been related to murderers and if anything it’s caused them to be pitied and wrapped in cotton wool, not treated as though they themselves have slaughtered whole families on a whim. It didn’t annoy me enough to rate it any lower than three stars, but it was pretty bland and didn’t do anything for me. I’ve heard that T.E. Carter’s debut is more successful than this book, so I might give that one a go instead.
Big Bones by Laura Dockrill – 1 star
I’m so surprised that Big Bones managed to get shortlisted for the YA Book Prize, because it’s highly damaging. Bluebelle is an overweight character who loves herself and doesn’t care about her size (something I would normally applaud in YA, as embracing yourself for who you are is an extremely important lesson to teach teenagers) but so much of this book is handled terribly. The first thing that springs to mind is the overly detailed description of how to make yourself be sick, as it would have caused me a lot of problems if I’d read this book at a younger age while I was struggling with my weight. Bluebelle’s general selfishness got on my nerves, and I was very close to DNFing it but I thought something redeeming must happen to merit that shortlist appearance. Sadly, I was wrong.
Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard – 5 stars
I absolutely loved both Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder, but Goodbye, Perfect surpassed my expectations. I’ve read a LOT of YA books focusing on student/teacher relationships (I don’t know why, I had a bit of a thing about them at one point) but this one was the first one I’ve read which has really done it right. From exploring the worried people left at home to investigating exactly how something like this can happen, Sara Barnard leaves no stone unturned, and she once again nails the authentic teen voice through Eden. I’m so glad that she won the YA Book Prize with this one, and I can’t wait to read Fierce Fragile Hearts and be blown away by that one too.
In Bloom by C.J. Skuse – 2 stars
A highly disappointing sequel to one of the most fun adult thrillers I’ve ever read. In one of the most cliched depictions of pregnancy I’ve encountered, Rhiannon became a completely different character as soon as she got pregnant, and it made reading In Bloom feel like a complete chore. I honestly couldn’t believe how long it took me to read this one – I read Sweetpea in a week and it took me four months to convince myself to finish In Bloom, something that hardly ever happens. I’m very much hoping that there isn’t going to be a third installment in this series, because this one was highly unnecessary: there wasn’t enough going on to merit a second book, and I feel as though some chopping and changing in the first book could have made it possible to combine the two together.
I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
The last of the YA Book Prize shortlisted books in this wrap-up, I didn’t love I Was Born For This as much as I thought I was going to because the story took so long to get going. From the 50% mark I flew through it and loved following Jimmy and Angel, bouncing backwards and forwards between their perspectives, and I thought that the way Alice Oseman explored fandom and the idolatry nature of teenagers was very interesting, but it just didn’t quite recover the momentum that was missing throughout the first half.
Naked by Stacey Trombley – 3 stars
Anna is a teenage prostitute living in New York until she’s arrested and sent home with her parents. Having left home at 13, Anna has a lot of catching up to do at school so her parents’ first ruling upon her return is that she must get back to school as soon as possible. I feel a bit torn over Naked because, although Stacey Trombley does a good job of exploring the idea that you can never really leave your past behind, a lot of this story just doesn’t feel authentic. If you really had run away from home for three years and you had very rich parents, I highly doubt sending you back to public school would be at the top of their list. Anna’s relationship with Luis also makes me raise my eyebrows: at the start of the story she defends him wholeheartedly because she says he’s never done anything wrong to her and that he saved her from a life on the streets, but later she admits that he both a) sold her and b) hit her, so I can’t imagine her feeling that loyal to him after those experiences. I didn’t feel strongly either way so I decided to sit in the middle on three stars, but I do wonder if I’m being generous.
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – 5 stars
Opposite of Always is the best 2019 release I’ve read so far this year. Jack and Kate meet on the stairs at a party and quickly fall in love, but their relationship does not have a happy ending: Kate has sickle cell, and it kills her. However, something doesn’t want this to be the end of Jack and Kate, and her death constantly sends Jack back to the moment that they left, leaving him fighting against death in a race against time which he seems destined to lose. Taking the idea of Groundhog Day and combining it with two star-crossed lovers is brilliant, but the thing that really grabs you about Opposite of Always is the cinematic way that Justin A. Reynolds tells the story. If this one isn’t adapted into a film sooner rather than later I’ll be highly surprised.
Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak – 5 stars
A heart-wrenching exploration of grief, Wild Blue Wonder brought me to tears twice – unfortunate, as I was reading it on my phone and walking around town both times. It’s difficult to explain exactly why I loved this book so much, but there is literally nothing I can criticise about it. The way Carlie Sorosiak organises the story – jumping from the winter following Dylan’s death back to the summer leading up to it happening – gives you a bittersweet sense of inevitability that propels the plot along at a breakneck speed, while the way it’s told is utterly beautiful. I’m looking forward to reading If Birds Fly Back as soon as possible, because at this point I genuinely believe Sorosiak could become one of my favourite authors.
I hope you enjoyed these Rapid Reviews! Fingers crossed I’ll have more time and energy to dedicate to blogging and can get back to posting regularly, but until then I’ll carry on sporadically hopping in and out every couple of weeks.
Thanks for sticking with me,
Hello everyone! This is the most exciting blog tour I’ve been involved in all year, and I’ve been dying to share my thoughts on I Hold Your Heart – Karen Gregory’s third novel – with you all. I absolutely loved Countless and Skylarks left me…