It’s hard to review It Sounded Better in My Head, because the reality is that not a lot happens in this book. That being said, I bloody loved it. Main character Natalie gets a nasty surprise for Christmas when her parents announce that they are …
Tag: four star review
There have been quite a few books inspired by King Arthur published in recent years. Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke… The …
First things first I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder Children’s Books, who accepted my request to read The Girls I’ve Been via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Tess Sharpe’s Far From You is one of my favourite YA contemporary novels of all time, so it won’t come as a surprise to you that The Girls I’ve Been featured on my most anticipated 2021 releases list.
The Girls I’ve Been follows Nora, the daughter of a con-woman, as she is caught up in a bank robbery along with her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend. Nora knows the day is going to be awkward – Wes caught her and Iris kissing last night, and she’s been purposefully keeping the relationship a secret from him – so she decides to swing by and pick up some donuts on her way to the bank, where the three teens are depositing money that they raised for a local animal shelter.
Unfortunately, the donuts have a lot to answer for. They make Nora late. If Nora hadn’t been late they would have already deposited the money and left the bank before the hostage situation occurred, and they wouldn’t find themselves in a fight for survival against two armed bank robbers.
There are so many things that I absolutely loved about The Girls I’ve Been.
Let’s start with Nora.
The main character, Nora has had one hell of an upbringing. Having a con-artist for a mother means that Nora was trained to become whatever her mother needed: pliant and perfect, meek and mild, silent and subdued.
The majority of the story is told during the bank robbery – counting up the minutes that the characters have been held hostage and the different assets that they find themselves with – but Tess Sharpe smoothly weaves in chapters from Nora’s past, introducing us to all of the girls she’s been throughout the years. My heart was breaking for the little girl who would do anything to please her mother, and it just broke further throughout as Nora came to the realisation that her mother’s work would always mean more to her than her daughter.
There is so much I could say about how much I loved Nora’s character. She prioritises the safety of her friends above everything, even her own wellbeing. She keeps a lot of secrets because of the nature of her upbringing, but isn’t afraid to confront her demons through therapy. She’s a 100% badass, and I’m desperate for Tess Sharpe to write a sequel because I want to read more of Nora (and I only finished this book two days ago!).
Then there’s Iris. Obsessed with vintage clothing, Iris may look girly and soft on the outside but she has nerves of steel.
Suffering with endometriosis, Iris is in agony for much of their time as hostages, but she isn’t afraid to use her period to her advantage. Iris taunting the bank robber with the fact that she really needs to empty her menstrual cup will go down as one of my favourite scenes of all time. I always love seeing periods in fiction – they’re a huge part of life if you have a vagina, and it’s unrealistic to believe that nothing exciting would happen during at least one character’s time of the month – but it felt so natural and realistic that it took me a while to actually think “Oh my god! Casual period discussion!”.
Iris and Nora’s relationship is a complicated one – Iris knows hardly anything about Nora’s real past, while she’s also keeping secrets of her own – and I wish we’d been able to see more of them. Obviously there’s a bank robbery going on, so Tess Sharpe has much bigger fish to fry, but I would have been happier if we’d had some more chapters set in Nora’s recent past. We get a lot more of the relationship between Wes and Nora than we do the relationship between Iris and Nora, but I think if they’d been focused on a little bit more then they would have ended up being one of my favourite bookish couples for sure.
That brings us to Wes. The son of the mayor, Wes has an abusive home life that leads to him practically moving in with Nora and her sister, Lee.
I absolutely loved the description of Wes and Nora as Franken-friends. Wes finds out about Nora’s past while they are dating. Her secrets and lies are too much for him to take, leading to the end of their romantic relationship, but they manage to cobble together a friendship which Wes affectionately refers to as the Franken-friends.
It would be great if friendships between exes could be normalised in YA. In my lived experience, people are far more likely to stay friends with their exes than to never speak to them ever again, but that explosive end to a relationship is still the one most commonly portrayed in YA literature. It’s something so small, yet so effective (which can also be said about the casual period discussions!). Tess Sharpe has a brilliant way of making her stories feel realistic, even though the bank robbery/hostage situation is an uncommon inclusion in YA.
That certainly upped the pace, though. I flew through the first quarter of this novel and found it very difficult to put down, so make sure to pick this book up when you’re able to set aside quite a chunk of time for reading! Don’t make the same mistake I did and start reading right before bed, because the situation that the three friends find themselves in definitely gets your heart racing.
This is the second novel by Tess Sharpe that I’ve read, and I think she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. I’m always going to have a soft spot for books with bisexual rep, but Sharpe makes the sexuality a part of her characters and not their defining characteristic which I highly appreciate. These are characters who are comfortable with their sexuality. They don’t feel the need to come out or to justify their feelings for each other, and I think this quiet acceptance of their feelings for each other and who they are makes Sharpe’s characters much more believable.
My only complaint – and the only reason that I didn’t give this book five stars – was because I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It feels as though it tells either too much or not enough of the story. If the story had finished a couple of chapters earlier it would have been a five star, and if the story had been extended for another few chapters it would have been a five star, but because of where it ended I was left feeling a bit dissatisfied.
That being said, this is still a book that I’m going to reread over and over again, and I’ll definitely be purchasing a copy as soon as it is released. I already can’t wait to see what Tess Sharpe writes next.
Thanks for reading,
As I mentioned during my review of Tinsel of Sibéal Pounder, I spent the last week of December reading a bunch of Christmas middle grades which included the complete series of Christmas books by Matt Haig! I have already talked about them a little bit …
I decided to spend the last week of December reading a stack of magically Christmassy middle grade novels, and I did not regret it. Tinsel is the first of this stack that I’ll be reviewing (check back on Thursday when I’ll be discussing my thoughts on the entire Christmas series by Matt Haig!).
Tinsel (subtitled The Girls Who Invented Christmas) is a feminist take on the Father Christmas origin story, explaining how Santa Claus came to be known as an old man when Christmas was actually the brain child of Blanche Claus and her best friend Rinki.
Blanche is an independent young girl who is desperate to find her place to belong in the world. She pretends to be a boy so that her and her horse, Rudy, can work as carters, while plotting with Rinki to bring magic and hope to every child in the world by figuring out a way to deliver gifts to every single one of them in one night: Christmas.
Unfortunately this seems impossible, until Blanche meets a fairy/elf called Carol, who (along with many other fairy/elves, also called Carol) works to help Blanche make her Christmas dream a reality.
Sibéal Pounder’s twists on Christmas lore were clever and comical. There are lots of miscommunication and hijinks going on in this story, but also some believable mix-ups that do make you wonder whether the story of Santa Claus is as clear-cut as it seems.
My favourite thing about Tinsel was definitely Eggnog, a talking fir tree who just loves to give hugs which are far longer than socially acceptable. If Sibéal Pounder decided to write a sequel to Tinsel following Eggnog, I’d pre-order that in a heartbeat.
I also really appreciated the epilogue, which encourages young readers to try to find an environmentally-friendly alternative to tinsel and informs them of the risk of plastic pollution. A subtle yet impactful way to get little people thinking about their impact on the planet.
If you’ve read and enjoyed Matt Haig’s Christmas series, you’ll definitely love this story. There are some parallels between them – including a twisted newspaper owner who is desperate to spread misinformation, an important topic to educate young readers on – and they both effectively weave the bittersweet with the magical, adding a realistic aspect to their fantastical tales.
Are there any Christmassy middle grade novels that you would recommend I pick up next year?
For today’s Blogtober post, I’ve decided to challenge myself to another round of #10in20. In this challenge, you write 10 books in 20 minutes, meaning you have only two minutes to write as much as you can about each book you review. This was a …
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,