After finishing Dear Martin back in July, I wondered why it was getting a sequel. Justyce’s story resolves neatly in the first book in this series, and I couldn’t for the life of me see where the story could go from there. Little did I …
Typing that title has made me realise that it has been six months since I started my TBR Jar! How wild. I’m glad that I’ve stuck with it (even though it’s been getting progressively harder to motivate myself to pick up the titles I pick out because I keep getting such huge disappointments) and I’m looking forward to carrying on with the jar for many months to come.
As always I picked out five titles from my TBR bucket while filming my July TBR, but I ended up having to substitute one of them because it hadn’t sent across from NetGalley properly and was archived years ago (#fail). It then also took me a few days at the beginning of August to finish Permanent Record, which is why this post is coming to you a bit later than normal!
Surely my picks couldn’t be as bad as last month… Right?
Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi – 5 stars
Permanent Record is a book which I related to (and not because I’ve had a secret relationship with a Disney star!).
Pablo Neruda ‘Pab’ Rind doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life. An ill ventured attempt at attending NYU has left him with thousands of dollars worth of debt, made all the worse by the fact that his mother warned him against attending in the first place because of the high price tag. Working at the local bodega – sorry, health food store – Pab is stuck in a rut. Until he meets Leanna Smart.
Leanna Smart is the new Miley Cyrus/Demi Lovato/Selena Gomez. Guys want her, girls want to be her, she’s a household name across the globe… And for some reason she’s in Pab’s bodega in the middle of the night on Valentine’s Day.
The interesting thing about how much I loved Permanent Record is how little I cared about Pab and Leanna’s relationship. Having read Mary H.K. Choi’s debut, Emergency Contact, I was expecting this to be a dual perspective narrative, but without seeing inside Leanna’s head it’s hard to get a read on her. She’s driven and ambitious, with some insecurities, but she spends more time globetrotting than we spend getting to know her. If we had seen things from Leanna’s side I would have rated this even higher (which is impressive, considering I gave Permanent Record five stars even without it).
As it was, I found the scenes focused on Pab’s relationships with his family and flatmates to be far more compelling than any he shared with Leanna.
The reason I loved this book so much was because I read it at exactly the right time in my life.
‘I care about everything equally until I care about so many things I get overwhelmed and care about nothing at all.’
I don’t think I’ve ever found a quote which describes me so perfectly. It’s the reason I decided not to go to university in the first place; I had a notebook filled with huge lists of courses that I was interested in, and it was impossible to narrow it down so I… didn’t.
When you’re surrounded by YA books filled with characters who know what they want to study and how to get there, it’s refreshing to meet a character like Pab who does not have his shit together in the slightest. It’s inspiring, and it gave me a boost I didn’t even know I needed. It’s reminded me that you can’t rest on your laurels in life. It’s better to pick one thing, regret it and need to try something different later in life rather than do nothing.
Permanent Record isn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it will stay with me. It deserves five stars for that if nothing else. I’m so glad I picked it out of the TBR jar this month, and I can’t wait to pick up more of Choi’s work in the future.
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom – 5 stars
Not If I See You First was another five star for me. I put off reading it until the end of the month and ended up flying through it in a day, which was a pleasant surprise.
Not If I See You First follows a girl called Parker Grant, who is blind. Parker has a set of rules that people must follow if they want to be her friend, and if you break one of these rules you’re out. For good.
Parker’s ex-best friend Scott broke one of the rules when they were younger, and she hasn’t spoken to him since. This was helped by the fact that they went to different high schools, but now Scott’s back, and Parker begins wondering whether rules were made to be broken.
I enjoyed so many different aspects of Not If I See You First, but first and foremost I loved Parker. She is a pretty horrible person – snarky, sarcastic, straight-talking to the point of rudeness – but it makes her so interesting. I’m a huge fan of reading unlikable characters, and if Parker had been nice and sweet this would have been a much less compelling story. Parker claims that she’s honest because of her blindness – she can’t see the way people react to her comments, so why should she care? – which makes it interesting to experience things from her viewpoint. Not only does the reader not know how other character’s are reacting, but we only know what the character’s look like based off of Parker’s memories (and the bits of information the other character’s tell us about themselves) which makes for a unique reading experience.
There’s just so many different things that this book handles, and handles well.
Parker’s dad has just died, so there’s an exploration of grief. Parker thinks it’s healthy to bottle everything up and rewards herself with a gold star for getting through each day without crying. However, this doesn’t end up being the healthiest plan, and Eric Lindstrom makes a big point of showing that it’s okay to not know how to grieve, and you can grieve in multiple ways.
This also makes for some interesting dynamics between Parker and her aunt’s family, as they have to uproot their lives to move to her home after her father’s death. There is understandable animosity on both sides, and it was another aspect that was very realistic.
There’s also Parker’s running. Parker runs in the local park every morning, because she loved running before she lost her vision and she refuses to let her blindness take everything from her. This terrifies a lot of the able-bodied people around her, because they think it’s dangerous and it doesn’t fit with their preconceived notions of what a blind girl should be doing, but I think it’s a brilliant way of showing that individuals know their own capabilities and there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to disability.
I thought the relationship between Parker and Scott was very realistic. I’m not a huge fan of miscommunication, and a lot of their issues could have been avoided if Parker had just listened to Scott in the first place, but she admits this herself! I also think it’s very easy to tell people to hear someone out, but when you’re in that situation and you’re feeling betrayed then it’s impossible to do it, especially at a young age.
Most YA contemporaries are hyper-focused on the look of the love interest, so it’s refreshing that this story focuses on Scott’s personality instead. That might be why I liked their relationship so much despite having some issues with it (one of which being the fact that Parker still thinks of Scott as her soulmate despite the fact that she’s hated him since she was 13!). Eric Lindstrom left their story open which I loved, but it’s also a very hopeful ending; it brought a tear to my eye, and I don’t often cry while reading.
I’ll admit, Not If I See You First isn’t perfect, but if a book is trying to address so many different things at once and is tackling all of them to a very high standard, I can’t give it lower than a five.
Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger – 2.5 stars
I found Follow Me Back very conflicting. The concept is clever, the synopsis made this sound like it would be a new favourite, but the execution was meh.
Tessa has been suffering with agoraphobia after an incident occurred in New Orleans over the summer. Since Tessa has been unable to leave the house she’s gotten obsessed with singer/songwriter Eric Thorn, and she manages to get his attention after her racy fanfic #EricThornObsessed gets his name into the top trends.
Eric is disillusioned with fame and detests the fangirls who are only interested in him for his body. Has anyone even bothered listening to his latest single? Can the screaming girls at every show even hear his lyrics over the sounds of their adoration? He decides it’s time to take matters into his own hands and makes a fake Twitter account to destroy his reputation.
However, it backfires. No one’s going to take a Twitter troll seriously when they’re trying to take down one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Eric changes tack and uses the account to attack Tessa, who replies civilly. He instantly realises she’s not like other fans and they strike up a friendship which develops into more.
I thought this story was going to be a thriller rather than a contemporary romance, but it’s definitely the latter. There are thrilling aspects towards the end of the story but they come out of nowhere with hardly any setup and it makes things wholly unsatisfying, although it does mean that the pacing in the last quarter is dramatically faster.
The more I think about this story the more it annoys me, because I did enjoy the beginning of the novel. The story is interspersed with excerpts from police interviews, so you know shit is going to go down… It just ends up being a bit of a cop out, which is a shame. Even Tessa’s agoraphobia doesn’t end up being tackled in a realistic way, so if you do suffer from agoraphobia I wouldn’t recommend picking this book up. I’m not a agoraphobic, but I found the way the plot ended up being resolved to be quite patronising and insulting (but if you have experience with agoraphobia and felt differently when you read this please let me know!).
I was impressed with the surprising, whiplash ending, which is a twist on a twist… Then discovered that there’s a sequel, which dampened the impact enormously. This doesn’t feel like a story which needs to be dragged out further, so it’s probably not a series I’ll continue.
Meanwhile, just because Tessa’s not like other ‘fans’ and not ‘girls’, it doesn’t mean I’m going to hate this trope any less. If Eric would get his head out of his ass and stop presuming all of his fans are rabid attach dogs waiting to bite, he’d soon learn that they’re all individuals, not cookie cutter ‘fans’. Definitely not the book for me.
Contagion by Teri Terry – 2.5 stars
I was hoping I was going to love Contagion because I’ve enjoyed all of the Teri Terry novels I’ve read so far, but unfortunately Contagion fell a little short for me.
Contagion is about – surprisingly enough – a virus that sweeps across Scotland and the north of England called the Aberdeen flu. When the novel starts we are rapidly counting down to time zero, jumping between the perspectives of two girls called Callie and Shay.
Callie has been missing for a year, and she’s trapped in an underground laboratory being experimented on for unknown reasons. Shay is the last person who saw Callie, but she doesn’t even know Callie is missing until the book begins, so she contacts Callie’s brother Kai and they begin searching for her and for answers regarding who took her and why.
Despite the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, I didn’t find the world that convincing which gave it a serious lack of tension. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it was that I didn’t click with, but part of it is that there are ‘surprising reveals’ towards the end of the book which I found obvious as soon as that aspect of the plot was introduced. I couldn’t believe that the characters involved weren’t able to see the pattern sooner.
Because this is YA there is a strong focus on the romance which develops between Shay and Kai, and although their relationship is quite cute it felt rushed. Within a day of them meeting each other Shay is getting butterflies when Kai texts her, and while I can believe that might happen I can’t believe it would be the priority during the outbreak of a pandemic which is killing huge swathes of the Scottish population.
I also struggled at times with the switching perspectives because Shay and Callie’s voices were quite similar. I found myself wishing we could follow Kai instead, because he was going off by himself and I was interested in what he was getting up to!
That being said, the scientific aspects were handled really well. The origins of the virus are realistic, and the way that Teri Terry explains some difficult concepts makes this easy to digest even if you don’t have a head for science.
I will be continuing on with the trilogy because this story has a lot of promise, but I’m feeling apprehensive. One of the characters has a mysterious identity and it seems obvious to me who will end up being unmasked. I hope I’m wrong because I don’t want all of the twists and turns in this story to be highly predictable, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the story resolves (and hoping I will like the next two installments a little bit more!).
The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse – 4 stars
The Summer of Us was my substitute title, replacing Altar of Reality by Mara Valderran.
It’s ridiculously appropriate that I picked out The Summer of Us this month because it begins on July 1st. I ended up reading each chapter on the date that the events in it took place, which on the one hand was a great idea – it felt as though it was me exploring Europe with my friends and made me feel far more connected to the characters – but on the other hand meant it took me two weeks to read a book which I should have been able to read in one sitting. Oops.
There is a lot going on in The Summer of Us. Not only do we travel around Europe, exploring Paris, Prague and Rome (amongst many other locations) but we also explore the rocky terrain of the relationships in this friendship group of five.
Rae has been steadily falling in love with Clara, who she’s certain is straight, and can’t wait to move to Australia for college to get as far away from her feelings as she possibly can. Meanwhile Aubrey and Jonah have been together for years and have a Plan – they’re both going to college in New York and everyone thinks they’ll be together forever – so why did Aubrey risk messing everything up when she kissed Jonah’s best friend, Gabe, a couple of weeks ago?
I found the dynamics of the gang intriguing, and by the end of the novel they felt more like friends than characters. This might have been because of the length of time it took me to read it because it meant that the characters and the situations were on my mind a lot throughout my day: there were a few times when the days ended on rather surprising cliffhangers! However I think it’s more likely to be because Cecelia Vinesse crafts believable characters. They’re flawed, but it adds a realistic dimension that can be missing from YA contemporaries.
Some people won’t enjoy The Summer of Us because it does excuse cheating and I think that’s the only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of. Considering this group are all teenagers they’re bound to be making mistakes, and I saw a lot of my own teenage years reflected in the antics that the group got up to, but I found myself feeling sorry for Jonah. This was a perfect read for this time of the year though: the only thing that could have made it better would have been reading it on the beach!
Two five star reads? The jar really was kind to me in July! However, I’ve already picked out August’s books and… Well, let’s just say we are already over a week into August and I’m yet to attempt to pick any of them up.
Have you read any of these books? If so, leave your thoughts down in the comments!
See you soon,
Hello, and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like.
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Meghan from Wednesday Books for reaching out and inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Although this is a hard read which contains some difficult content it educated me on a topic I didn’t know much about, and I feel as though I learnt a lot during the course of this story.
Lex was taken – trafficked – and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again.
After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.
But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.
Kate McLaughlin’s What Unbreakable Looks Like is a gritty, ultimately hopeful novel about human trafficking through the lens of a girl who has escaped the life and learned to trust, not only others, but in herself.
‘You can sell a pill once. You can sell a girl many times before she’s all used up.’
What Unbreakable Looks Like starts with a bang. We meet Poppy at the motel where she is being kept and sold by Mitch, the man who made her think he loved her and showered her with gifts so she felt as though she was in his debt. When the police raid the motel and find the girls they are taken to the hospital, where Poppy is reunited with her aunt Krys.
Krys and her husband Jamal are hoping to take Poppy home with them, so that she can beginning living her life as Lex once more. But the journey will not be an easy one, and Lex will need to want to stay clean and truly believe that she deserves better than the life Mitch dragged her into.
“This is how you survive. You sit the fuck down and give them the respect they deserve, and you make a promise to yourself that they didn’t die for nothing. You get mad, and you keep going. That’s how girls like us get even, how we say fuck you to the people who did this to us. We live.”
Kate McLaughlin does a wonderful job of exploring all of the different treatment options available to someone who has been in a situation like Lex. Not only is she taken to a rehab facility, where she undergoes group therapy and one-on-one appointments with a psychiatrist, but Lex also takes medication to help with her anxiety. I’m always a huge fan of books which don’t attempt to prescribe a one-size-fits-all treatment: mental health issues often need a combination of different treatments, especially for someone who has been through something as awful as Lex.
At the treatment centre we are introduced to a range of different characters, and one of the only reasons that I didn’t give this book five stars was because I really wanted some of these characters to be fleshed out a little more. Because Kate McLaughlin focuses so intensely on Lex’s recovery and she moves on from the rehabilitation centre quite quickly it felt like some of the side characters that we were introduced to were unnecessary, but there are a lot of people introduced very quickly and it’s hard to keep track of them all.
However, we also get introduced to a few of the other girls who lived and worked in the motel with Lex while she was still Poppy, and I thought those girls – Daisy and Ivy in particular – were extremely well fleshed out. The different ways that they react to being in such a heinous situation are very realistic and believable: it’s likely that some of the girls would rebel against Mitch more than others, and the dynamics between the girls are authentic. The flashbacks to the motel are quite sparse, but they’re very emotional – it’s impossible not to feel like weeping whenever you see Lex go through another ordeal at the hands of one of Mitch’s ‘customers’.
The sexual assault referenced in the blurb doesn’t happen until almost halfway through the novel, so I did have a constant sick feeling of dread churning in the bottom of my stomach knowing that Lex’s fresh start wasn’t going to be as happy as she had hoped. Her reaction to the assault was devastating, but the fact that she had friends and family around her to teach her that it was not okay that she had been put through that gave the story a feeling of optimism and hope. There are good people out there, it’s just sometimes hard to remember that – especially when you’ve been shown the bad side of people over and over again.
A big focus of the novel is on Lex developing a romantic relationship and learning to love on her own terms. Although I thought aspects of this were rushed, the overall handling of the matter is done very well.
There’s also a focus on justice, and the way that victims of sexual assault often worry about coming forward for fear of victim blaming. I have seen this tackled in a few YA novels in the past but don’t think any have managed to do it quite as well: Kate McLaughlin balances a mixture of supportive and outraged reactions, which is very true to life.
It sounds wrong to say that I thoroughly enjoyed What Unbreakable Looks Like, because it’s hard to enjoy a book focusing on a subject such as this, but I thought it was written well, had great character development and a very satisfying conclusion.
Kate McLaughlin likes people, so much so that she spends her days making up her own. She likes writing about characters who are bent, but not broken – people who find their internal strength through friends, strife and sometimes humor. When she’s not writing, she likes studying people, both real and fictional. She also likes playing board games with friends, talking and discovering new music. A proud Nova Scotian, she’ll gladly tell you all about the highest tides in the world, the magical creation known as a donair, and people who have sofas in their kitchens. Currently, she lives in Connecticut with her husband and four cats. She’s the author of What Unbreakable Looks Like.
You can find Kate on Twitter.
Thanks again to Wednesday Books for having me on this blog tour, and thank you for checking out my stop.
Have a wonderful day!
When The Beautiful was announced, everyone I heard talking about it said it was a duology. Alas, after finishing The Damned I have realised that that is not the case – in fact, it’s rumoured that there are another two books to come in The …
Hey everyone, and welcome to another installment of Rapid Reviews! I’ve been making a valiant effort to keep on top of reading new releases this year, so here are reviews of five books published in 2020 so far.
I’ve gotten these from a mix of sources, so I’ll mention in the review whether these books were ARCs sent to me by the publishers or whether I read them via NetGalley. I’ll also let you know when they were/will be published.
I’d also just like to bring your attention once again to the Black Lives Matter carrd. Please take some time today to sign petitions or make a donation to the BLM movement.
Here Be Wizards by Sarah Mussi – 4 stars
I was kindly sent a review copy of Here Be Wizards by Shrine Bell. This is the third and final book in Sarah Mussi’s Snowdonia Chronicles (check out my reviews of book one and book two if you’re interested in seeing my thoughts on the series so far!) and concludes the story of Ellie Morgan and her true love, Henry (who is a dragon, btw).
I was planning on rereading the first two books in the Snowdonia Chronicles before picking up book three, but then I remembered that Sarah Mussi handily includes little asides to the reader in the footnotes, recapping the previous action in a fresh and interesting way. It easily helped me remember why I loved book two so much (and why book one was a struggle…) and meant that I could enjoy the third book as though only a few months had passed between releases, rather than almost three years!
Going into Here Be Wizards, I just couldn’t possibly imagine a way that this story could conclude. When we rejoin our Welsh crew, Henry is stuck in an eternal battle under a mountain with the White Dragon, Sir Oswald. Ellie has no idea if she will ever see him again, and even if he does win the battle there’s still the tiniest little problem with their relationship: Henry is an immortal dragon, and Ellie is a mortal girl. Even if they do reunite, there’s not much hope of their relationship lasting the test of time.
It’s difficult to review this story without giving spoilers, but I’m going to do my darnedest not to ruin the plot because there is a whopping big twist which works brilliantly when you don’t see it coming. In fact it’s such a shock that I had to reread a certain chapter three times just to check that I’d understood what was going on properly, because I didn’t see it coming AT ALL. On reflection it’s the only way that everything really could have resolved and I’m glad that Sarah Mussi went there. I’m not going to be any more specific, so just go and read the book and then come back to discuss spoilers with me! I still want to unpack this with someone, because I don’t know anyone else who has finished this trilogy yet and I’m still feeling a little shook.
However, despite the fact that everything made sense I just didn’t find the ending the most satisfactory? I’m not quite sure why, but when I finished the book I felt a tiny bit deflated. I can’t think of another way it could have ended, which is probably the more frustrating thing – I’m a little disappointed, but I can’t think of a different way of telling this story so I should be over the moon that Sarah Mussi managed to find a way to wrap everything up so neatly!
That being said, I still enjoyed this book enough to give it four stars. It’s a bit wild and wacky at points, but who doesn’t love a jam-packed story with action and adventure from beginning to end?
I loved the fact that Sarah Mussi explored different aspects of Welsh mythology with each release (and in this one we even get a cameo from a certain famous Arthurian wizard!). If you’re someone who is loving the sudden surge of Arthurian retellings in YA, this is definitely one to have on your radar.
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen – 2 stars
If you haven’t heard of Loveboat, Taipei I’ll be extremely surprised, because it’s shaping up to be the biggest debut novel of 2020. It’s only been out for a couple of months (released back on January 7th) and they are already adapting it into a film, for crying out loud! I was lucky to be accepted to read a copy of Loveboat, Taipei via NetGalley.
Loveboat, Taipei follows a Chinese-American called Ever. When her parents find out that she secretly applied to dance school, rebelling against their plan for her to become a doctor, they send her to Taiwan to study Mandarin and learn more about Chinese culture for the summer. However, it turns out that the school they’ve sent her to is the infamous Loveboat, where buttoned-up teens let loose during their first summer away from their strict parents and constant supervision.
I thought I was going to absolutely love this book, but unfortunately I’m in the minority of people who really didn’t enjoy it. Scratch that, I think I’d even go as far as to say that I hated it.
My main issue with Loveboat, Taipei is this: if Ever was a boy, this book would be getting absolutely slated. I’m all for a female protagonist taking control of her own life and doing whatever she wants, but Ever’s behaviour seems callous at worst and careless at best, and I’m not able to gloss over that fact and celebrate it simply because she’s a girl.
I’m about to get spoilery, so if you don’t want to know the specific reasons why I don’t like this book, feel free to continue scrolling.
Loveboat, Taipei features a love triangle between Ever, Rick and Xavier.
Xavier is a bit of a playboy – when we meet him he’s in the middle of getting caught during a sexual act with a girl who is hardly mentioned again – but he has feelings for Ever so he dedicates his time drawing her and anonymously delivering these pieces of art to her. I think that’s pretty adorable, that she makes him want to change his ways.
Meanwhile Rick is a Yale-bound overachiever who is the bane of Ever’s existence. Her parents have been telling her stories about him since she was little, constantly telling her to strive to be more like him. Rick has a long-term girlfriend who suffers from depression and anxiety, and Ever has feelings for him despite knowing this.
Rick and Ever kiss, and Rick then disappears. While Rick is gone, Ever sleeps with Xavier, but as soon as Rick is back from dumping his long-term girlfriend – he apparently knew Ever was the one as soon as he set eyes on her, barf – Ever and Rick start a relationship.
Ever never tells Rick about her night with Xavier, which feels rather ill-advised. He literally flew across the country to dump his girlfriend because he couldn’t stop thinking about Ever, but as soon as his back was turned she slept with someone else and didn’t think this was worth mentioning?! Meanwhile it’s treated as completely appropriate for him to drop his girlfriend because of the fact that she had mental illnesses and was relying on him too much and his family didn’t like her. Pretty infuriating, no?
I feel as though this story would be absolutely torn to shreds if our main character was a boy. If he coerced a girl into breaking up with her long-term boyfriend and as soon as he back was turned slept with a different girl who was utterly infatuated with him, people would be up in arms. I just don’t know why this seems like appropriate behaviour because it’s a female protagonist instead of a male.
The worst thing is that there are yet more reasons I didn’t like this book.
There’s a revenge porn plot which is resolved by Ever just decided she wants to carry on being friends with the girl who handed her nude photo around to everyone… What?!
Then there’s the epic (and utterly unbelievable) conclusion, in which Ever almost gets hit by a car, dislocates her shoulder and injures her ankle and somehow still manages to take part in the epic dance recital which she single-handedly choreographed in a summer. I mean I can hardly dance at the best of times, so fair play for not letting a terrible injury stop you.
I can’t understand why this is getting such rave reviews. There are a very minimal amount of reviewers speaking out about the problematic content, and while I’m a huge supporter of both debut authors and own voices books I just can’t get behind this one when it seems to be promoting breaking up with the mentally ill because they’re dragging you down with their suicidal thoughts. Ugh.
The only reason I didn’t give this one star is because the beginning quarter, before Ever goes to Loveboat, is really impactful. She is so desperate to follow her dream and be a dancer but because of her parents she feels she has no choice but to go into medicine: the struggle she faces is very emotional, and her desperation feels extremely realistic.
Loveboat, Taipei reminded me a lot of American Panda by Gloria Chao, but I gave that book five stars. I would definitely recommend Chao’s debut far more, particularly if you’re also not a huge fan of the approach to mental health in this novel.
Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew – 4 stars
Blood Moon is a debut novel told in verse about a girl who goes viral after getting her period during her first sexual experience with a boy.
This book is bloody brilliant (excuse the pun). When you hear that a book is a verse novel written about a period it could definitely go one of two ways – it’ll be either one of the best or worst things you’ve ever read – so I hit the request button on NetGalley faster than I ever have before. Luckily Blood Moon far exceeded my expectations.
Frankie is absolutely mortified when a meme of her goes viral following her first sexual experience with Benjamin. She’s certain that he must have told one of his friends about the fact that she started her period during foreplay but he denies it. She’s recently fallen out with her best friend, Harriet, and she wonders whether Harriet might be responsible, but Harriet also denies all responsibility. It becomes hard for Frankie to know who to trust during the fallout, and she isolates herself, skipping school and obsessively refreshing social media to see what horrible things have been posted about her now.
There is so much going on in this novel, and the only reason I knocked a star off was because I just don’t feel as though verse was the best way to tackle the amount of subjects Lucy Cuthew has squeezed into this story. Frankie loves astronomy so there are sections about the blood moon and stargazing which could have been expanded beautifully with a bit more description (particularly as the moon inspires the title!) but this aspect of her character falls to the wayside in favour of addressing the ordeal which she is experiencing.
I was a huge fan of the way Lucy Cuthew crafted the friendship between Harriet and Frankie. Just because you’ve been friends forever doesn’t mean it’s always going to be smooth sailing, and I loved the way that they grew apart because of a few misunderstandings but managed to reconnect by the end of the story.
Meanwhile Benjamin is an absolute DREAM. I felt more betrayed than Frankie when I thought he was the one who’d spread their sexual story through the school, but the way that it actually got out makes so much sense and is an utter relief. Periods are natural – they aren’t disgusting, almost ever person with a vagina will experience them at some point during their lives – and if more boys reacted the way that Benjamin does the world would be a better place. I’m certainly going to be talking to my son about periods when he’s older and teaching him that they’re nothing to be squeamish about, and I’m proud to have a partner who isn’t ashamed to pick up some pads from Boots or bring clean underwear to the bathroom if I need him to. If a boy is no good at dealing with your periods, he’s definitely going to be useless if you ever decide to have children!
The social media hate which Frankie receives is painfully realistic. Sometimes when authors tackle social media they don’t make the posts vitriolic enough to seem authentic, but Blood Moon genuinely feels like scrolling through the comments on a hateful Twitter thread. It’s heartbreaking to know that people receive messages like this, particularly for something which is completely out of their control, but it’s sadly the way that the internet works.
The conclusion is feminist AF, highly empowering and very inspirational, and this book is bound to be a huge hit among teenage girls (those who are already outspoken and confident, and those who just need a bit of a push to stand up for their bodies). I wish there’d been a book like this around when I was in secondary school – it would have made me far less ashamed of talking about my periods, and much more comfortable about going to school and sitting in classes for hours and hours on end while I was on.
Blood Moon is published on July 2nd, and if you have any teenage girls in your life you need to make sure to get them a copy.
Far From Perfect by Holly Smale – 5 stars
Far From Perfect is actually damn close to perfect. The second book in the Valentines series, Far From Perfect follows Faith Valentine as she rebels against the perfect image that she’s built for herself and starts to decide what she really wants from life.
I struggled through the first half of Happy Girl Lucky, but Far From Perfect was a breeze from start to finish. Hope Valentine’s narrating style is very unique, whereas Faith is a down-to-earth girl who just happens to have been born into one of the most famous families on the planet (and isn’t a huge fan of the attention, FYI).
This is a much more serious book than Happy Girl Lucky, and I really enjoyed the fact that it had a similar sort of arc to the first book in the series: it starts off quite light-hearted and fun, but Faith’s attitude changes rapidly after being cheated on by her boyfriend and forced to go to acting classes after a train wreck of an audition. Imagine Britney at the height of her mental health issues; that’s pretty much how bad things get for Faith. Lots of rebellion.
So many books have characters who want to be famous and rich and love it when they get there, but it’s nice to read a story featuring a famous girl who would really just like to be normal, thank you very much. My favourite scene in the entire book is when Faith’s boyfriend Noah takes her out on stage to dedicate his new song to her and she’s internally cringing the whole way through: that might be the dream for some people, but don’t underestimate the power of more normal romantic gestures!
There’s a twist towards the end of the novel which literally made me sit in shocked silence for about five minutes reevaluating EVERYTHING, and it makes it impossible not to pick up the third book in the series. It seems like that’s going to be a difficult read, with some serious issues addressed, and I think it’s genius that this series just seems to be stepping further towards dark and tricky topics with each release. In fact I’m probably going to re-read both of the first two books before the as-yet-untitled third novel is released, as I think it will be very interesting to read the Valentines story through the lens of the new information which gets revealed.
I wish I’d waited to read this series when all of the books were already released, because as soon as I finished this story I was desperate to pick up the next one. At least I already own the entire Geek Girl series, so when I eventually get around to reading those I won’t have such a long wait in between!
Follow Me, Like Me by Charlotte Seager – 3 stars
It’s hard to tell what Follow Me, Like Me is trying to say. Telling the story of two girls called Amber and Chloe, it’s a warning against social media and the way that whatever you post can be seen by anyone… But I’m not quite sure who it is warning.
Chloe and her boyfriend Tom have just broken up, so she starts talking to a boy on Instagram called Sven. He seems sweet to start with, but after she tells him about an incident at a party he begins slut shaming her. She blocks him, but then ends up getting suspended from school for spreading photographs of her friend Louise in her underwear – which Chloe didn’t, and would NEVER, do. She’s sure that Sven must have something to do with it, but how and why? It’s not like she even knows him, not really.
Meanwhile Amber has a crush on Ren, a guy who works in the school gym. When he gets fired she pretends to be his sister to investigate, and after learning that he’s been accused of sexually assaulting multiple women Amber decides to become a detective and prove Ren’s innocence. She stalks him on all of his social media platforms, refreshing his Facebook and Instagram near constantly, and adding him on Snapchat so she can see his Snap Map and follow him in real life.
I’m going to get spoilery now, so if you haven’t read Follow Me, Like Me yet you know what to do…
Chloe arranges a meeting with Sven, so that she can find out who he is and why he’s ruining her life. Meanwhile, Amber is following Ren and – yep, you guessed it – she follows him straight to his meeting with Chloe, because he IS Sven! A huge surprise, definitely not hinted at by the rhyming names or anything…
Sven/Ren tries to attack Chloe, but Amber swoops in and saves the day. To thank her, Chloe tells everyone at school that Amber saved her and they strike up an unlikely friendship – the hottest girl in school, and the invisible quite one who everyone forgets about.
So does this mean it’s fine to stalk someone on social media as long as you’re a girl? Because that’s all I really got from this. If Amber hadn’t been utterly obsessed with Ren, she wouldn’t have been able to save Chloe from him, and she wouldn’t have found the acceptance at school which she had always been craving.
Yes, it’s a warning about not talking to strangers on the internet, about being careful about who you send intimate pictures to, about not thinking someone is innocent of sexual assault just because they’re hot and were nice to you once… But Amber is majorly obsessed with Ren – so much so that her family are worried about her – and she doesn’t experience any kind of ramifications. Is it saying that girls are less dangerous than men on the internet? Amber physically follows Ren on multiple occasions and that seems quite dangerous to me!
I don’t know, it’s hard to get my thoughts together on this one. I think I know what Charlotte Seager was aiming to say but it feels like it missed the mark quite dramatically. That being said, until you get to the conflicting ending, the story is quite gripping. I figured out the Ren/Sven connection very early and I just hoped I was wrong, because a lot of the plot does hinge on that being a surprise, but the tension and fear which Chloe feels is palpable. Similarly, the compulsion Amber feels to prove Ren’s innocence is a good driving force: her chapters fly past because she’s so desperate to discover the truth. Unfortunately it just doesn’t make too much sense when you look at it closely.
I read Follow Me, Like Me via NetGalley. It published back on January 23rd, so if you are interested in reading a copy it is already available.
Thank you for checking out the newest installment of Rapid Reviews! Have you read any of these books? If so please leave your thoughts in the comments down below.