It’s been a few weeks since we uploaded our YA Book Prize 2021 shortlist reading vlog and discussion videos, so it’s about time I actually reviewed each of the ten shortlisted titles. I’m going to do these alphabetically, so feel free to scroll down if …
Tag: two star review
I’ve finally finished Sword in the Stars, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two books in the Once & Future duology. I’ve already discussed Once & Future over on my Booktube channel, so make sure to check that out as well if …
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Smith Publicity for accepting my request to read and review this book via NetGalley.
Heaven Has No Regrets tells the story of cousins – and best friends – Makenzie and Faith. Jumping between the present (where one of the girls is dealing with the grief accompanying the death of the other) and the past (where Faith gets diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Makenzie suffers from bulimia), this novel is part mystery, part contemporary and part guidebook to dealing with loss.
Unfortunately, no matter how heartless it makes me, I really didn’t like this book. I feel terrible for saying it, because it was based on a true story and it’s obvious that Tessa Shaffer poured her heart and soul into Makenzie and Faith’s story, but I had a lot of problems with it.
Primarily, my issue is with the choice to make the death of one of the cousins into a mystery. It would have been far more impactful and emotional if we had known which cousin died earlier in the novel, rather than leaving the reveal until one of the final few chapters. I’m sure Tessa Shaffer was attempting to make the character’s grief non-specific, so that readers could relate to it and put themselves into her shoes. Instead it felt like a ploy to get readers to keep turning the pages. If the characters had been fleshed out a bit better, readers would feel as though they wanted to carry on reading even without that non-chronological flash into the future. Instead, we’re left with two named characters and the rest of the characters described as ‘the boy with the motorcycle’ or ‘the boy with the mohawk’, not even given names. It was impossible to keep the background characters straight because they had no descriptions or defining characteristics, and the story suffered because of it.
My other major issue with this story is the triggering way that Makenzie’s eating disorder is discussed. There are graphic descriptions of the way she purges, and it was wholly unnecessary. These issues should be handled with sensitivity, but there was no gentle or careful way of talking about the subject, it was very blunt and felt very harmful. If these descriptions had occurred earlier in the novel I would have DNFed it, but because I was already over halfway through by the time they cropped up I forced myself through the story, to the detriment of my own mental health. If you’re someone who suffers with eating disorders or finds yourself triggered by graphic descriptions of bulimia, this is certainly one to avoid.
The first line of dialogue isn’t spoken until the 8% mark, which makes the beginning of the book a slog to get through. I found Faith’s Crohn’s diagnosis interesting, and would have liked it if that had been explored a bit more thoroughly, but the focus is very much on the way she feels before her diagnosis and the bitter attitude that she has towards the medication she requires to manage the symptoms of the disease. I can’t remember reading a novel featuring a character with Crohn’s before, and this book is not a very memorable exploration of it. I was also beyond disgusted by the emotional blackmail that Faith uses, threatening to stop taking her medication every time that Makenzie purges. The way to help a family member with an eating disorder is not to threaten them, and the fact that this isn’t addressed is extremely worrying.
The only reason that I’m giving this book two stars is because the ruminations on grief in between the chapters were very thought-provoking and insightful. If Tessa Shaffer had chosen to write a non-fiction book with these inspirational quotes, I think it would have been a bestseller. They really make you consider the way that you live your life and give you a newfound appreciation for the people around you. I’ve been holding my babies much closer and prioritising spending more quality time with them, and I’m grateful for that.
Thanks for reading,
To begin, I’d like to thank SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky, for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley. The List introduces a dystopian world where vocabulary is being restricted and words are being systematically destroyed. The story follows Letta, the Wordsmith’s apprentice, as …
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Michael Joseph for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley. How To Disappear tells the story of a girl called Zara, who has to enter witness protection after lying …
First things first I’d like to say a huge thank you to Walker Books, who accepted my request to read Game Changer via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I have been so excited about reading a new Neal Shusterman novel. Having read and loved Dry and the entire Arc of the Scythe series, I thought that I might have discovered a new favourite author. I featured Game Changer in my most anticipated 2021 releases video, and I thought it was going to be an easy 5 star read to start off 2021 right.
Unfortunately, Game Changer took those hopes and dashed them to pieces.
Game Changer tells the story of a boy called Ash, who hits his head badly during a football game. He feels cold and uncomfortable, and wonders if it might be a concussion until he’s driving home and runs a blue light.
Yep, a blue light.
Ash realises that the world around him has changed, but he has no idea why. The only thing he can think to do is make sure to hit his head again during his next game in the hope that things might go back to normal. Unfortunately Ash finds himself quickly shifting further and further away from the life he’s used to.
I think the concept of Game Changer is utterly brilliant. The idea that the entire world could change due to such a small, seemingly inconsequential event makes you reconsider the impact that your actions may have. It could have had a positive impact on the behaviour of a lot of people, if it wasn’t trying to do quite as much.
Neal Shusterman uses Game Changer to criticise a lot of different injustices found across the world. The class divide, the racial divide, the gender divide – all of these and more are critiqued and torn apart throughout the course of Ash’s story.
Unfortunately, rather than educational and eye-opening, it comes across as extremely preachy. Ash is a white kid who struggles to listen to his best friend Leo, who is Black, when they talk about racist issues, yet we’re supposed to believe that Ash’s attitude changes remarkably quickly. One minute he’s contradicting Leo’s lived experiences, but a few chapters later he’s suddenly converted into a social justice warrior fighting the good fight for anyone who could be described as underprivileged.
I sincerely appreciate what Neal Shusterman was trying to do, but it doesn’t work. Stuffing this many important conversations into such a small book (while also introducing some pretty mind-boggling scientific concepts) is overwhelming, and sadly I didn’t enjoy Game Changer anywhere near as much as I was expecting to.
That being said, Neal Shusterman’s writing is still great. The conversational tone that Ash takes throughout makes him feel like a friend rather than like a character.
I cared about a lot of the background characters, even the ones that we don’t spend a lot of time with, because Shusterman has a skill when it comes to fleshing out characters realistically with only a brief description. This is something I noticed throughout the Arc of the Scythe – sometimes characters are only around for a chapter or two, but they stick in your mind remarkably – and it’s something Shusterman manages again in Game Changer.
I would still recommend picking up Game Changer – the early reviews seem to be extremely divisive, so you’re either going to love or hate this book – but unfortunately it just didn’t do it for me.
I hope you enjoyed this review, even though it’s not what I expected to be saying about this novel!
See you tomorrow with my review of another anticipated 2021 release,
This might not work, but today I’m giving myself a little bit of a challenge. With two small children I don’t have as much time to review as I used to, but I’m still reading a ridiculous amount of books (I’m almost halfway to my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal despite the fact that I’ve already upped it) so today I’m trying to write ten book reviews in twenty minutes.
Yep, you read that right. I’m going to set a timer on my phone, and I’m only going to have two minutes to share my thoughts on each of the ten books I’ve chosen. Luckily I can type quite quickly, so I should be able to share a fair amount, but it probably won’t make a whole ton of sense.
If this works well? Brilliant! I can use this to catch up and then hopefully write more in-depth reviews in the future when I’m back on top of things.
If this doesn’t work? I am so sorry. This might be the messiest post I’ve ever written, but I love me a challenge so I’m going to give it a go anyway.
Here goes nothing…
The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh – 5 stars
The Beautiful is marketed all wrong. This book has been described as the return of the vampires to YA, but unfortunately they don’t actually appear until right at the end of the novel. It would have been a really exciting surprise if it hadn’t been the only thing I’d known about The Beautiful going in, so I found myself getting really frustrated that there weren’t vampires earlier.
That being said, this is still a great story. A murder mystery/coming-of-age tale following a girl who flees from France to New Orleans after murdering the man who attempts to rape her? That’s a pretty compelling tale on its own, even without the vampires. Can’t wait for the sequel.
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson – 2 stars
Really not a fan of this one. It’s the tale of a girl who has had a pretty crap life – abused by her father, bullied because she’s poor – and she doesn’t even get to be the protagonist of her own story. The actual protagonist, Kate, is a bit of a bore with a cliched story (fails to get into uni, won’t tell anyone because of the shame) and it would have been far more interesting to read Catalyst from Teri’s perspective.
I should have DNF’d this, but it’s only a couple of hundred pages so I couldn’t force myself to put it down. It’s just glorified poverty porn, and probably the worst Laurie Halse Anderson novel I’ve read.
The Crown by Kiera Cass – 4 stars
The last book in The Selection series, and actually the best installment. The ending was cliched as heck and I saw it coming a mile away, but it was satisfactory in the way that it all played out and it was on the cute side of cheesy rather than the cringe side.
If you haven’t read The Selection series I wouldn’t recommend picking it up – I think I gave the first book a four, and everything else struggled to get a three or less – but this was a pretty good ending to an additional duology which really didn’t need to exist.
Who knows, maybe I only liked this one because it meant that the series was finally finished and I wouldn’t have to force myself to pick up another one. At least they are really short – you can easily read each of the books in the series in a day, so if you have a spare week and you like the idea of a dystopian series of The Bachelor then this is definitely for you.
Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer – 2 stars
This was one of the first books Sean and I read together, and because we read it almost two years ago I can hardly remember anything about it. Following a vampire called Vladimir Tod as he enters the eighth grade, the concept was really fun but this book just didn’t have much substance. I can remember enjoying how wacky and wild some of the scenes were, but there’s a fine line between ridiculousness being funny and being downright stupid. This book definitely falls into the latter category.
I own the second book, might pick it up someday as they are really short, but I can’t see myself bothering to hunt down the rest of the series. A quick, fun read, but definitely not well written and very forgettable. Perfect for catching up on your Goodreads goal if you’re behind though!
The Eldritch Heart by Matthew S. Cox – 2 stars
I took part in the blog tour for The Eldritch Heart and disliked it so much that I couldn’t even write my review and had to ask for an excerpt instead.
Featuring a lesbian romance between a princess and one of her handmaidens (I think? It has been three years since I read this one) it’s a great concept but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been own voices. Some of the writing was a bit uncomfortable and made me feel as though the characters were being a little fetishised – that’s just what I can remember feeling, I don’t have any ‘receipts’ because it’s been so long so I might be wrong – but I can remember struggling to finish this one and almost putting it down a few times, and that was before I let myself DNF anything.
It has a sequel now and that seems to have good reviews, so I might give it another go in the future, but I’ve heard that Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst is similar and I think that’s own voices so I will probably try that one instead.
Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young – 4 stars
A feminist story following a group of girls at a finishing school, but with a twist. All of the girls are expected to be perfect young ladies, but when one of the girls mysteriously disappears – apparently sent home due to money concerns – the facade begins to crack and secrets are uncovered.
Very gripping, very surprising, and a great look at the different ways that women have been controlled by men in the past and continue to be shaped by them in the present. Also works well as a standalone which is satisfying – I am looking forward to reading the sequel, but the ending works quite well if you don’t want to carry on with the rest of the books in the series (trilogy? There are at least two more, not sure if there will be more announced in the future!).
Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence – 4 stars
Wasn’t a huge fan of Lawrence’s debut, Orangeboy, so I put off this book for far too long considering I ended up absolutely loving it.
The relationship between Bailey and Indigo is very realistic, and I found myself rooting for them harder than I’ve rooted for most couples in YA that I’ve read this year.
Loved Indigo’s style and her music taste is impeccable, but I also loved the fact that Lawrence wasn’t afraid to show the way that childhood trauma can deeply impact upon people for a very long time – it isn’t something that you just grow out of or get over, and oftentimes the people who have been through that trauma don’t even know themselves how deeply they have been affected. Quite a predictable twist at the end of the book, but it was handled with tact.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – 5 stars
Absolutely adored this book. Perfect use of verse – there was no other way that this story could have been told, and telling a story about a poet in verse is genius.
Explores the importance of music in teen relationships, an aspect which is quite often overlooked but does have a huge part of the way that people bond at a young age and find common ground between each other despite different backgrounds and personalities.
Also explores the conflict between parental beliefs and expectations and your own personal interests, and the way that that can often come to a head in a rather explosive way. I challenge you not to get emotional during one scene in particular between the main character and her mother. Was welling up with tears while reading.
What She Found in the Woods by Josephine Angelini – 4 stars
Read this one the morning after my son was born, and if I’m completely honest I can remember hardly anything about it.
There was a boy called Rainbow, which was an interesting choice, and his parents lived in the forest or something because they were survivalists and didn’t like the government? Wasn’t a fan of the relationship between him and the main character, but I did find the fact that they got caught having sex in the forest to be very funny: teens are often criticised as being uncontrollably horny monsters but they don’t really act upon it in YA, so this felt very authentic!
I remember the climax being very explosive but I can’t remember exactly what led up to it… I can remember being gripped, though, and wondering how our main character was going to manage to get out of everything.
I mean it kept me interested and I read the whole thing in one go despite the fact that I had a newborn, so it definitely deserved the four stars… I just don’t remember why. Might have to reread…
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw – 5 stars
One of the best books I read last year, and one of the strongest debuts I’ve read in an extremely long time.
Shea Ernshaw is an author who really makes the setting into a character in itself, and that is one of my absolute favourite things in books.
The Wicked Deep tells the story of three sisters who are drowned because they are accused of being witches, and due to that they come back every year, possessing the bodies of three girls from the town to take boys from the town and murder them. Our protagonist, Penny, falls in love with a boy whose brother was taken after he comes to town to try and get his revenge, but it’s not going to be as easy as he first thinks.
There is a twist which I saw coming, but it paid off so beautifully that I was beyond excited that I’d worked it out – I was literally screaming because the reveal was handled so beautifully. As I said, this was one of the best books I read last year (with Shea Ernshaw’s second novel Winterwood, being even better).
That went… Better than expected? I mean I’m typing so quickly that my laptop is struggling to keep up with the words that I’m producing, so I think that proves that this has given me the kick up the bum I needed to stop dithering and just get my thoughts on these books out as quickly and succinctly as possible. If you’ve ever read any of my reviews before you’ll know I love a good babble.
If you liked this idea please let me know in the comments! I had a lot of fun doing it so will probably try to do more in the future, but I’d love to know what you thought.