Rapid Reviews #5: The 2020 edition
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.