What I’ve Been Reading…

Despite being fairly committed to reading books over the past few years, and having a to-be-read list longer than both my arms, I’ve found it quite difficult to concentrate on reading whilst I’ve been pregnant. Partly, it’s because I’m a lot more exhausted, so I’ve forgone my extra reading time in favour of naps and early nights, and also partly because my brain has been racing with all things baby, which makes it tricky to fit in a trip or two to my favourite fictional land. I’ve mostly been devouring historical romance novels, which I know will have happy endings and are easy to read so are perfect for my current state of mind (would people like recommendations? I’ve found some great ones!). But, since I’ve been on maternity leave and found myself at a loose end with no baby currently in sight, I’ve been able to get stuck into a few more books than usual – so if you’re looking for something to throw in your beach bag this holiday, then look no further… 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you read just one book this year, please make it this one; I know I’m not the first to rave about it but believe the hype, it’s all true. Plus, it’s less than £4 on Amazon right now, which is ridiculously cheap for such a masterpiece. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give follows the story of sixteen-year-old Starr and what happens when she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of a friend at the hands of a police officer. As she finds herself at the middle of a media circus, trying to balance her life becomes more and more difficult as she seeks justice for Khalil whilst trying to maintain her own safety, and that of her family. 

It’s not just the timeliness and poignancy of the story, but the characters which make this book so incredibly readable and wonderful. In the first instance, Starr is just someone you want to be friends with, and there is a real focus on her family, who are all fantastic characters in their own right, as well as being amazing in their supporting roles. Everyone in the book felt fleshed out and important, from her ex-drug-dealer father to her Asian best friend, and they all had their own storylines that ultimately fed into the wider plot. Basically, this is some complex writing that will still have you tearing through it to find out what happens – which is a surprisingly rare thing to find. I teared up on more than one occasion; anyone who has followed #BlackLivesMatter will recognise just how *real* this story is, which makes it all the more heartbreaking, but I also felt like it left room for hope, too. 

Becoming by Laura Jane Williams

If you hang around on the Internet, you’ve probably come across Laura Jane Williams and her brilliant blog at one time or another (and if you haven’t, where have you been?). There was a lot of praise for her first book when it came out last year but it’s only just fallen into my hands. With a subtitle of ‘Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I am’, you can guess at the subject matter, and I think a lot of people will have similar stories to tell from their own lives – but isn’t that the point? After being dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry, Laura turned to booze and sex to try and heal her heart. But, after finding that it just isn’t working for her, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery from Derby to Detroit, and finally to an… Italian convent?

The comparisons with Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert are inevitable, but I think they are justified; not only does this book feature solo female travel, designed to repair and restore the traveller’s heart and soul, but Laura manages to combine that wonderful mixture of honesty and sincerity with humour and self-deprecation, which makes this kind of memoir work for me. It would be so easy to go too far down the navel-gazing route, or to make the story more light-hearted in an effort to shun emotional intimacy with the reader, but Laura is unfailingly honest, even when it doesn’t picture her in the best light, whilst remaining warm and self-aware enough to have you rooting for her the whole way. We might not have all gone on such a journey, but anyone who has ever experienced heartbreak (and haven’t we all?) will find something special in this book. 

The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik*

I read Ayisha Malik’s first novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, on honeymoon almost two years ago, and the protagonist is one that’s stuck with me ever since – so I was delighted to find that there was a sequel! Sofia Khan is touted as a Muslim Bridget Jones, letting you in on her diary as she struggles with love, life and finding her purpose – but (spoiler alert) it looked like she had found her happily ever after at the end of the first book. But what happens after? Is it really as easy as sailing off into the sunset with your true love? I think we all know, of course, that it isn’t – and it was refreshing not only to revisit this beloved cast of characters but also to get a glimpse at the reality of life after the ‘I do’s.

Sofia finds herself torn between countries and priorities, as she struggles to balance her life with her new husband, Conall, whose work (and annoyingly attractive colleague) is keeping him up at all hours, with the demands of her family and her own work as a writer and publisher back home. Mourning her father, supporting her friends with their own turbulent love lives, and writing a book on Muslim marriage when she’s not sure hers is going to work out, all take their toll as she discovers Conall’s darkest secret and has to decide just what to do. It’s a book full of strife and struggle, but also of warmth and humour; reading this book was like returning to an old friend and I hope that it’s not the last we hear from Sofia Khan. 

Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes*

If you’re after some pure escapism, you could do a lot worse than taking a trip to 1980s Oxford with Ursula Flowerbutton and trying to solve a murder… Ursula is expecting Pimms, punting and parties at her first term at Oxford University but when a glamorous classmate is discovered with her throat slit on the first day of term, Ursula finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation. With the help of uber-fashionable American exchange student Nancy Feingold and uber-camp gossip columnist Horatio Bentley, who dresses almost exclusively in purple, Ursula navigates the snobby world of the champagne set, dodge romantic overtures from potential murderers and try to find the time to write her first essay. It’s a little absurd, sure, but with a ridiculous(ly posh) cast of characters and some stellar pop culture references, this was a seriously enjoyable read for me. Think Jilly Cooper meets P.G. Wodehouse meets Cagney and Lacey. I mean, how can you resist? 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and buy something, I may receive a small commission. Books marked with a * were provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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A Few Book Reviews…

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

I’ve had some conflicted feelings about this series so far; the first couple of books seemed to be an amalgamation of a bunch of other popular dystopian YA novels, repackaged and resold. However, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up the sequels, so I’m probably not in any position to criticise – and if you want a story that will keep you turning the pages then this is a good place to go. I actually thought that King’s Cage was the best of the three, because it started to deviate a little from the expected storylines and gave some new perspectives on the storylines from other characters, but I still wasn’t totally blown away. I found the main characters hard to connect and sympathise with; I don’t care if characters are ‘likeable’ but when you know you’re supposed to be rooting for them, it can be tricky if you just don’t really care… Some of the fringe characters feel more interesting and fleshed out to me than Mare, the supposed heroine, and I find myself not caring about the love triangle she finds herself in – despite there being a lot of potential in it as a storyline. In fact, that’s what the whole book felt a bit like to me – wasted potential; there’s a lot of promise but despite my coming back for more each time, I leave a little disappointed. 

Ctrl, Alt; Delete by Emma Gannon 

I have seen this book lauded across the Internet as a relatable memoir about growing up online, and what that means for our generation. And I think I get why; at times, Emma is candid about her own experiences at the hands of the Internet – from the moments where she was the victim, to moments where she used it in slightly nefarious ways herself, as I think we have all done. A lot of her anecdotes were achingly familiar for someone who found the Internet at a similar time, and who has equally made her life and career online – from MSN messenger conversations to typing out blog posts to making friends online, long before that was cool. But, for all her candidness, I also felt a level of detachment in the writing that made it hard to actually ‘relate’ to the author as she charted her journey to adulthood. For me, the book couldn’t quite decide whether it was a memoir that spoke of the author’s learning curve, or whether it was cultural criticism of what the Internet has done to our generation. As the former, it didn’t dig deep enough to satisfy me, and as the latter, there were a lot of speculations and generalisations that didn’t hold water for this erstwhile sociologist. The premise was interesting, and definitely something I want to see explored more as we live longer with the Internet as the background to our lives, but this just didn’t hit the spot for me. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus*

If you want an addictive YA novel to see you through your summer holidays, then please pick this one up; it was smart, thrilling and excellently paced – and one of the only books that I have raced through this year, unwilling to become distracted from the storyline. Five strangers walk into detention, but only four walk out alive. When Simon, creator of a gossip website reminiscent of Gossip Girl, but even meaner, and focused on the students of Bayview High, dies under suspicious circumstances, his fellow detention attendees become suspects – especially when it’s revealed that they all had something to hide that Simon was threatening to expose… On the surface, this was a traditional ‘whodunnit’ read, that kept you guessing as pieces of the puzzle were slowly revealed or, rather, it kept me guessing because I am always terrible at working out the plot until it’s right in front of me – but I suspect that even if you do guess, you’ll still enjoy this novel enormously. Whilst the characters are described as the typical YA/high school stereotypes in the blurb (jock, prom queen, nerd…), they were written with complexity and sensitivity and given unexpected but realistic plot lines that made them more than just bit-part players in a murder mystery. Their lives were messy and real, and I’d have been happy to read about them even without the thriller/mystery element of the plot. I don’t want to give too much away, so you really must read this one for yourself! 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon*

Oh, my heart. This book is so adorable and precious, and it will fill you with joy. Sure, it’s a little unrealistic in places (namely, the ending) but do I care when it gives me such a happy feeling? No, not really. Dimple just wants to escape her over-bearing mother and ace her summer web coding programme. Rishi just wants to please his parents and impress his future wife. I want them to just fall in love and live happily ever after. After a very adorable meet cute, in which Dimple has *no clue* that her parents have arranged a marriage with Rishi’s parents behind her back, the two start a slightly rocky friendship. They think they have each other pegged, but as the summer progresses and they reveal their hidden depths to each other and love might just find them after all. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll definitely fall in love with these characters – with fierce, determined Dimple and sweet, soulful Rishi, as well as their friends and family. I never wanted this book to end; I wanted to stay wrapped in its warm embrace forever more – but the best I can do is to pass the recommendation on to you! 


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January Book Reviews

Another year, another reading challenge for me to tackle. For reasons that are probably obvious now, I’m only giving myself a target of reading 52 books this year – less than half my total last year. My hope is that I can sit with a sleeping baby in one arm and my Kindle in the other so I’ll actually be able to read more than ever, but suspicion (and anecdotal evidence from friends who are parents) suggest that is a rather unlikely scenario. S0, I’m just going to try and get as much reading done before July and then we’ll see, shan’t we? Luckily, this set of books was a rather wonderful way to start a reading year… 

Heartless by Marissa Meyer*

Heartless is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland from the perspective of the Queen of Hearts (you know, “off with their heads!”)… before she became the Queen of Hearts. If you’re after an unputdownable read, then I think this might be the one for you: you’ve got a star-crossed love story, controlling parents, unexplainable events, delicious descriptions of pastries and some familiar characters sprinkled in there. 

Catherine is a favourite of the unmarried King but, unlike her social-climbing parents, she’s not fussed about becoming the Queen. She wants to open a bakery with her best friend – a goal that seems to be slipping out of her reach with every new attention from his majesty. At a royal ball, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest, the new court joker and the two begin a secret love affair. Cath wants to follow her heart, but in a land filled with magic, madness and monsters, is that even possible? 

Marissa Meyer manages to capture so much of the quirky, surreal, nonsense quality of the original Alice in Wonderland tale in this novel, which has twists and turns around every corner. Characters that you know and love, from the Cheshire Cat to the Mad Hatter, are given new depth and personality, whilst you can’t help but fall in love with both Cath and Jest. My heart ached for them, for the impossibilities of the stifling sexist society they live in, and for the ending that you know is coming. As a re-telling you sort of know where the story is going, although the ending did manage to shock me and break my heart regardless. There’s a really good balance between the original and Meyer’s own innovations that make this feel so fresh – I wish there was another one to come! 

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp 

As more school shootings happen, so, too, do books about them seem to proliferate as people try to make sense of something that seems nonsensical. There’s the infamous We Need To Talk About Kevin, the darkly funny Vernon God Little and plenty more – including this young adult offering, This is Where It Ends. At 10am, the principal of Opportunity High School finishes her welcome speech, marking the start of a new semester. At 10.03am, the auditorium doors won’t open. At 10.05am the shooting begins. Told from the perspective of four different students with personal connections to the shooter, this book tracks the incident minute-by-minute in heart-stopping detail. At moments, it is truly terrifying. The shooting, as I imagine it is in reality, is brutal, indiscriminate and all the more scary for it, and the scenes inside the auditorium were incredibly powerful.

However, for me, it just wasn’t nuanced enough; school shootings are such a complex issue and tackled so well elsewhere, that this felt a bit bland at times. The four voices we hear all felt quite similar; although the characters ostensibly had quite a few differences between them, they spoke in the same way and were all quite clearly the ‘good guys’ when put against the shooter. There were moments were the narrative tried to give him redeeming qualities, but they were weighed down by how ‘evil’ he was portrayed in other moments. I’m not sure it’s always as clear cut as that, and I wish that he’d had a chance to speak in the same way as his ‘victims’. There was so much potential, but I feel like the other books I mentioned do a better job of tackling such a deep and difficult topic. 

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson*

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child, and my favourite book of hers (at the time) was The Lottie Project, with half of the novel set in Victorian England. So it was with no small amount of childlike excitement that I set about reading ‘Clover Moon’, a novel set in the Victorian slums about a plucky young girl with a lucky name. Clover’s imagination is her best escape from her poverty-stricken life, but when tragedy strikes she realises that everything she once loved about her home is gone, and her abusive step-mother and indifferent father loom large in her life. She’s heard of a place that girls like her can run to, but can she find the courage (and the opportunity) to break free and find a new home? 

Wilson excels when she’s writing about hardship, never shying away from the details – a skill that I think is the reason why she is so beloved as a children’s author. In Clover, we have a brave and brilliant heroine that you will root for from the very first page, and despite the moments of darkness, there is a huge amount of hope within this book – again, a typical feature of Jacqueline Wilson. Clover encounters some real characters on her travels, including the kindly Mr Dolly, a hunchbacked doll-maker who will bring tears to your eyes, and Hetty Feather, the eponymous heroine of another of Wilson’s books. Whilst the happy ending might not be realistic for most children in Victorian England, this heart-warming tale has all of the elements of the perfect story. There’s a reason why Jacqueline Wilson is a national treasure, and I’ve yet to read one of her books that proves otherwise. I hope to be able to read many more of her books in years to come! 


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November Book Reviews


No Virgin by Anne Cassidy* 

I’ll admit I was a little cynical when I picked this up; I think it’s important that young adult fiction (or any fiction, really) addresses issues of sexual assault and rape but after reading some very hard-hitting books of this ilk recently, I was worried that it was becoming a bit of a trope, a way to short-hand deep feelings and trauma into a novel without always acknowledging the realities of such a traumatic experience. I needn’t have been so worried; this is an stark portrayal of sexual assault and the ways that class and power allow perpetrators to get away with it. Stacey Woods is your typical teenage girl; she worries about her best friend abandoning her for someone else, about her prying younger sister, about her Dad getting serious with someone new, about exams and finding a career she’s passionate about. When it all gets too much one day, she finds herself in a café being chatted up by a posh boy, who takes her on a whirlwind adventure. It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to Stacey, until it all takes a dark turn. Stacey’s experiences of rape are raw and unflinching, without being gratuitous, and highlight some important issues that I think it would benefit everyone to think about more. 

Small Great Things: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’ by Jodi Picoult* 

This book is a punch in the gut, especially given the current political climate in the USA. (I’m sure the publisher couldn’t have planned it, but now more than ever are books like this important). Ruth is an experienced labour and delivery nurse, but during a routine shift she is abruptly told that she can no longer care for a particular newborn. The parents are white supremacists and they don’t want Ruth, which is African American, to touch their child. When an unfortunate incident leads to the baby’s death, the parents accuse Ruth of a serious crime and the life that she has built up around her starts to crumble. Kennedy, a white public defender, takes the case and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye as they confront racism, privilege and prejudice in order to win Ruth’s freedom. 

I think this book will make for some pretty interesting book club discussions; I’d be interested to see how others have read it. I admit to fluctuating between being completely hooked by the story, compelled by the characters’ journeys and also a little reticent at the sometimes simplistic way that the novel laid out the realities of racism in America. At times I felt it was spoon-feeding the morality of the tale, but that may have just been my reading and, as I mentioned, I’d love to know what others thought. It’s difficult to talk about a book like this without becoming mired in a lot of history and politics (don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly where I like to be mired, if I am to be mired at all, but it’s not always great to be mired). I think it’s an important read, as well as one that is interesting and emotionally smart. However, at times it felt very black and white, if you’ll excuse the pun; I loved Ruth and wanted only the best for her, and she felt like a very rounded character to me, but the white supremacist couple were almost cartoon-ishly bad to me. They were consumed by their obsession with white supremacy; it infected everything they did, even the ordinary mundane things, and whilst I don’t doubt (having seen the evidence in the coverage of Trump rallies) that people like that exist, I thought it made it almost too easy to draw a line between right and wrong. Perhaps the hope is that white people reading this book will identify more with the white lawyer, so sure that she is not racist until her own privilege and prejudice are presented to her starkly by Ruth and by the facts of the case. Either way, whilst I think it would be hard to do, there is room for a little more nuance on each side. 

I am maybe biased because when looking up some facts about the book, I stumbled across the sub-title given to it by Amazon: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird for the 21st Century’. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this book; maybe even loved it. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and will stick with me for a long time. But to compare it to To Kill A Mockingbird, which is very subtle, and therefore perhaps more powerful and long-lasting, in its messaging is mis-leading, I think. I know those were not Picoult’s words, but I think it’s worth thinking about nonetheless. With everything that has happened, are we ready now for a more heavy-handed portrayal of racism in America? Is subtle no longer going to work on us; do we need something more to hit the message home? I urge you to read this book and find out for yourself (especially since it’s just £4 on Amazon at the time of writing – you’ve got no excuse not to!). 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han 

What a contrast to the other books on this list! If you spend any time on bookstagram, you’ll probably have spotted the cover of this sweet book. When it popped up on Kindle for just 99p, I couldn’t resist and I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s heart-warming in the best way; if you want to lose yourself in a teen romance then this is an excellent one to pick. Lara Jean is one of three sisters; after her mother died, her older sister Margot took on a lot of the responsibility but now she’s off to college in Scotland and it’s Lara Jean’s turn to pick up the slack. In a year that’s already going to be full of change and turmoil, something disastrous happens; the letters that she wrote to each of her previous crushes and stashed under her bed have been posted and everything has gone awry. As her crushes start to confront her about the content of the letters, Lara Jean starts to learn a little something about love… Whilst the romance in this book was touching and definitely had me squealing with joy at the end, it was the relationship between the sisters, and with their father, that I really loved the most. Definitely one to pick up on a dreary day! 

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

In Tally’s world, sixteen is the age when you are turned from an ‘Ugly’ into a ‘Pretty’; when you’re a Pretty, everything is wonderful and you can forget all of your problems. Your only job is to have fun and hang out with other Pretties. Tally can’t wait to join her best friend Peris across the river after her operation, but when she meets Shay everything is turned upside down. Shay isn’t sure she wants to be Pretty and when she runs away, Tally begins to learn more the ugly truth about being Pretty. If you’re into young adult dystopia, then this could be one for you but it didn’t grab me as much as I thought it would. Tally was a bit of a nothing character; somehow she managed great feats without previously demonstrating any particular drive or intelligence, which made it difficult to care about her eventual fate, and there was something a little bit obvious about the big reveal (if you’ve read any dystopia before, you can probably guess pretty quickly…). There were a few action scenes, but they were not as exciting as others I’ve read, and a bit of a romantic storyline that, again, didn’t capture my imagination. It ended on a cliffhanger, and I’m in two minds about picking up the next one; I hate to leave a story unfinished but I find myself not caring all that much about what happens to Tally and her gang.


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September Book Reviews


Modern Lovers by Emma Straub*

Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were in a pretty popular college band, but now they just do regular people things. The fourth member of Kitty’s Mustache went on to become a star, burning out in her youth and leaving behind the band’s best song as her legacy to the world. Now, they live almost-next-door to each other in Ditmas Park, and their lives are simultaneously tangled and completely separate. When a producer gets in touch to buy their life rights for a movie about Lydia, their once-friend and fated rockstar, it brings up a whole host of issues and feelings on ageing, purpose and relationships. 

This book manages to be dramatic and quiet, all at the same time – which is quite some feat. Fans of literary fiction will love the phrasing in this novel, which is beautiful and slow-paced without being dull. The characters are well-rounded and I very much felt that they could be real, from Andrew’s mid-life crisis to Ruby’s teenage one. This book does an excellent job of juxtaposing young love with the realities of what ‘happily ever after’ really means, the spontaneity against the monotony, the honest against the buried secrets. If you’re looking for something sweet and thought-provoking, then I think you will love this.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

This book took me completely by surprise. I am a little sceptical, probably unjustly, by the suite of YA novels populated by dying teenage characters, or characters who want to die – as in Jennifer Niven’s first, very popular novel All the Bright Places. They feel a little bit emotionally manipulative to me, and they’re just not my jam. It should be noted that I haven’t read any of the really popular ones, but it’s just a feeling I get – and I’m willing to be proved wrong some day. This book, though? Is about the very opposite – about living, seizing every day and squeezing every last experience out of your time here on earth. It was inspiring, joyful and so full of love for the characters. 

Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart. This is the YA story that I want to see them make a movie out of, please. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne 

I am clearly on a feminist YA kick at the moment, and this is the most feminist of them all, in that it is explicitly about being a feminist and all that entails. The third in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series, and the best of the three, in my humble opinion (although the others are definitely worth picking up), follows Lottie as she takes on the world with her #Vagilante campaign. Determined to call out every incidence of sexism she encounters for a full month, Lottie finds herself at the centre of a feminist revolution at school and in the wider world – until it all starts to get out of hand. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character – I love her no-holds-barred approach to life and love. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this – it’s an absolute triumph.

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan

I’m going to lump all these books together for the sake of this post, but they are all individually pretty excellent so I would definitely encourage you to look them up and discover their individual merits. As well a feminist YA kick, I’ve also been dabbling in the world of historical romances and I am completely head over heels for this series. I’m always a fan of books with crossovers, where characters you fell in love with in the previous novel come back with cameo roles and/or get their own starring title, and this series does it perfectly. By the time I was reading The Suffragette Scandal: Volume 4 (The Brothers Sinister) I was so enmeshed in the world of these characters that I never wanted it to end; I’m still in denial that I won’t ever find out more about their lives because they felt so real to me. These books completely smashed my preconceptions about romance novels – they’re body positive, they’re diverse, they’re feminist and each time I thought I couldn’t love another one more, the next one came along. Although the series is named for the Brothers Sinister, the three heroes of the novels, it is the heroines who steal the show. These are books about women who won’t be put into boxes, and the men who love them because of, rather than in spite of, that fact. 


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August Book Reviews

august books

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee*

In 2118, Manhattan is dominated by a thousand-floor tower which contains everything that used to make up the city. The privileged live the luxury life at the top of the tower – and on the thousandth floor, Avery Fuller, a girl genetically designed to be perfect. The book opens in rather a shocking style with a girl falling to her death from the top of the tower, before taking us back to the beginning and showing us how she got there… I was expecting a much more dystopian tale than the one I got; this is Gossip Girl set in the future. Teenagers with typical beautiful-rich-people problems – drug addiction, money woes, forbidden love. This is scandalous escapism at its best, and definitely left me wanting more (which is good, because it’s the beginning of a series). 

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

This book is the second in Holly Bourne’s ‘Spinster Club’ series; I loved the first one which I read earlier in the year, and found the second just as enjoyable. Amber is hoping that spending the summer helping out at her mum’s summer camp in California will change their relationship after two years apart, but it becomes clear pretty early on that Amber’s mum isn’t going to be able to give her what she needs. But the summer camp has other perks, including new-best-friend Whinnie (who is just a gorgeous character) and stereotypical all-American prom king, who just might be interested in Amber. A sweet story peppered with some pretty hard-hitting emotional stuff and a heavy dose of feminism (my favourite). I said it when I read the first one earlier this year, but I wish these books had been around when I was in school – I would have loved them even more if I was the intended target market, I’m sure. 


Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson 

If you’ve been around the Internet long enough, you’ll probably be aware of Jenny Lawson a.k.a The Bloggess. Her hilarious blog is one of the best on the web, and her first memoir was chock full of poignant moments mixed with snort-out-loud funny ones. In Furiously Happy she shares more anecdotes from her more-than-unusual life to similar effect. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as her first, which felt like it had more narrative thrust, but this is still a very enjoyable book to dip in and out of. Jenny has a particular skill to make you go from laughing at the antics of her taxidermied animals to tearing up at her portrayal of her mental health problems. It’s not hard to see why she has an army of fans – if there is anyone who makes you feel less alone and odd, it is Jenny Lawson. 

Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi*

This book took me by surprise; I’ve enjoyed Shappi Khorsandi’s stand up in the past and expected some of the same themes in her debut novel but this is something so much more. Seventeen-year-old Nina has a drinking problem, and her life begins to unravel after a rather traumatic evening that she doesn’t quite remember. This book is listed under humour, but although there are some darkly funny parts, it wasn’t all that funny. It was, however, very powerful, emotional and brave. Nina is a fantastic protagonist; although she acts like a bit of an asshole to her family and friends, she goes on a real journey and you are rooting for her all the way. This book pulls no punches when it comes to the reality of alcoholism, and there are some pretty big roadblocks for Nina to overcome that feel very realistic for young people today. Shappi Khorsandi handles a sensitive topic in a very uplifting but raw way, and I’m already excited to read what she writes next. 


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July Book Reviews

Read more reviews at Readers Gonna Read 

july book reviews

The Boyfriend List & The Boy Book by E. Lockhart*

I read these two books in quick succession, so I hope you don’t mind me reviewing them as one. Ruby Oliver is 15, with all the typical problems that being 15 brings. Friends. Boys. School. Her voice is refreshing and hilarious and real, all at once. Too often I read young adult books where the protagonist is either far too self-aware to be a teenager, or so laughably ridiculous to show that they’re young and naive that they lose any realism for me. Ruby Oliver is not either of this – she felt incredibly realistic to me. Ruby navigates the awkward world of her rich-kid school (she’s on a scholarship and her parents are wonderfully eccentric), losing her first boyfriend and her best friends (and finding new love interests and friends along the way) in a way that feels a little close to home for someone who used to be an awkward teenage girl at a rich-kid school. The thing I loved most about these books are the way they introduce feminist themes without being in-your-face – they address sexism and slut-shaming in a way that is totally approachable and perfect for the storyline. Basically, I wish I’d had these books when I was a teenager (and despite not being one anymore, I still really want to get stuck into the others in the series). 

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan* 

Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for her local paper, but she receives a letter unlike anything she’s ever had before. 

Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery

But Bethan Avery had been missing for years. As more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. Can Margot save Bethan? And does this have anything to do with Katie, the girl from Margot’s class that recently went missing, too? 

The unusual premise of this book intrigued me, and for the first half I was pretty much hooked, trying to work out how these letters were making it into Margot’s possession. However, after the dramatic twist that reveals pretty much all, it became more and more implausible and there’s only just so far that I can suspend my disbelief. Despite the promising opening, it ended up feeling a lot like other thrillers in this genre, with rather gratuitous descriptions of violence and a perpetrator without a coherent motive or backstory. 

Maestra by L.S. Hilton 

This book started out with so much promise. Judith is an intriguing character; she’s smart, ruthless and, at times, incredibly compelling. Having clawed her way out of a Liverpool council estate, she longs for the class privileges of her colleagues in the prestigious auction house where she now works. She feels shut out from the world inhabited by her upper class acquaintances, constantly trying to learn their ways but falling slightly short. Her only solace is her true love of art, which sustains her, and her unusual sexual proclivities, satisfied at the most exclusive of sex clubs. But, what starts out as an interesting and thrilling story of one woman’s rage against the system and desire to infiltrate it by any means necessary becomes slightly absurd as the book goes on.

As time went on and the story plunged deeper in the underworld, with Judith happily going along for the ride, her motivations become murky and her actions nonsensical. The book also had a frustrating way of letting the action happen with no insight as to Judith’s plan, before revealing all in long passages of explanation. Maybe it was my inability to understand the world of art fraud, but I struggled to follow in the later parts of the book and I stopped caring about Judith’s fate about three-quarters of the way in, which took the edge of the ‘thriller’ element of the novel. There are some racy passages and some abrupt twists that will keep you interested, but overall ‘the most shocking thriller you’ll read all year’ doesn’t live up to its moniker for me.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood* 

The daughter of a meth-dealer and an abusive mother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult in her household. One night she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, wreck his motorcycle and in the aftermath the two form a bond that spans years. As the two fall in love, things get even more complicated for them and everyone around them. 

Sheesh, this book. I’m going to be thinking about this book and these characters for such a long time. It’s ugly and wonderful, just as promised. As soon as I read the last sentence, I burst into tears. It’s just such an emotional reading experience. It was dark and uncomfortable and questioning and disturbing and occasionally sweet. It’s so confusing to work out your feelings as you watch their relationship develop over many years but they’re so well-formed and well-written than you can’t help but want true happiness for both of them. A truly compelling story and definitely up there as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware* 

 Lo, a travel journalist, has been invited onto an exclusive cruise ship but on the very first night she sees a body being thrown from the cabin next door into the ocean. But no one is missing from the ship, and no one seems to believe her. Did she make it up? Or are they trapped on the ship with a murderer? Ruth Ware is the queen of the spooky setting – in this case, a small cruise ship in the middle of the ocean – and with a limited number of suspects and a claustrophobic environment, there are some truly tense moments in this book, which had me guessing until all was revealed. However, Lo didn’t feel that well-drawn as a character to me – other than the parts of her which made her an unreliable narrator (drinking, exhaustion, anxiety), I didn’t feel that I left the book knowing anything about her – and there were definitely a few plot holes that could easily unravel if you picked them apart enough. The ending was a little too convenient for me to enjoy, but it’s an easy-read whodunnit for those times when you want to switch your brain off and get stuck into a bit of a mystery. 


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June Book Reviews

june books

The Girls by Emma Cline* 

During the dying days of the 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd spots an unusual group of older girls in the park and is immediately drawn to them – their kooky dress, their devil-may-care attitude and the frisson of danger that surrounds them. Soon, she is caught up in their circle – a soon-to-be infamous cult hidden on a ranch in the California hills – and obsessed with Suzanne, a ring leader who answers only to Russell, the enigmatic and mysterious (and very creepy) head of the cult. Evie is drawn more and more into their world, abandoning her mundane, every day life – but she might very well be in real danger. 

This is the book I was most excited for in 2016 and it did not disappoint. I’ve seen reviews which claim it is overwritten, but I found the prose very powerful and the observations on teenage girl-dom to be sharp and cutting. For those who want to read more about the Manson family, on which this cult is not-so-subtly based, this may not be the book for you – the horrors they enacted and the bizarre machinations of the cult itself are a backdrop for Evie’s coming of age story – and she is far more fascinated by Suzanne than by Russell, the Charles Manson figure. This book was compelling and intense; if you’re looking for a juicy summer read, then let this be it.

My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger*

There’s obviously something in the water because this is also a book which takes inspiration from The Manson Family, but in a rather different way. Anna runs away to Los Angeles after fighting with her mother, staying with her glamorous but deceitful older sister. She begins researching the Manson girls, becoming obsessed with their lives and the way their stories mirror her own. This isn’t a book where much happens, but it captures the feeling of being a teenage girl, of having to grow up, of fighting with your parents so perfectly, of being at once amazed and disillusioned with the world all so perfectly. LA, like New York, crops up in a lot of stories but this one felt very real – at once dreamy and devastatingly ugly all at once. This isn’t a glamorous Hollywood tale, it’s a very real and nuanced look at fame, sex and violence, all through the eyes of a sometimes precocious, sometimes immature teenage girl. 

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson  

David has always been an outsider, labelled a freak by school bullies. His parents think it’s because he’s gay but only David and his two best friends know the truth – he wants to be a girl. Leo has just one girl – keep his head down and stay invisible. This new school is a new opportunity for him, but his best laid plans are about to go awry when he catches the eye of the most beautiful girl in the year. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, the two form an unlikely friendship but when the secrets they’ve shared threaten to expose them, it’s time for some drastic action. 

Oh, how I cried at the end of this book. I sobbed. I smeared mascara all over my face. But they were happy tears. I adored David and Leo, and their friends and families. I didn’t want to leave them, even though I was leaving them in such a good place. This book tugged at all of my heart strings, and I want everyone to read it. I do think it’s kind of an unrealistic portrayal of the realities of life for trans youth; although David is bullied at school, he has supportive friends and family and although the struggles and hardships are hinted at, there is also a bit of a rose-tinted ending. That said, I loved this book and I really think that everyone should read it – it’s one that’s going to stick with me for a while. 

Longbourn by Jo Baker 

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

We all know what happens in Pride & Prejudice, but what happens below the stairs? Sarah is the housemaid for the Bennett family, an orphan living a life of hardship under the watchful eye of Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. Just as the Bennett girls worry for their future, so do the servants downstairs who are at the mercy of whoever takes over Longbourn once Mr Bennett passes on. Amongst the day-to-day monotony of emptying bed pans and scrubbing dresses, a new footman arrives and turns life downstairs at Longbourn upside down. There’s romance, heartbreak and intrigue – just as in the original, with a familiar cast of characters making their appearance as the backdrop for Sarah’s story. Fans of Austen may be disappointed by the tone, which is far more dour and serious than Austen’s own playful comedy of manners style but the love story is quite, well, lovely and there’s a good bit of gossip to keep you turning to the last page. 

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe*

I love Nina Stibbe. Her work is charming, quirky, entertaining and just down right British. She manages to capture all the little oddities of Britain gone by, in a really original way, and her cast of characters are always lovable and eccentric. Paradise Lodge is no different – although I urge you to read both Love, Nina and Man at the Helm before you pick this up. Lizzie Vogel, aged 15, gets a job at the local old folk’s home – a totally unsuitable job for a schoolgirl but she is determined and soon finds herself quite at home there. The place is in shambles, and as Lizzie tries to navigate a complicated home life, a disastrous school life and her job at Paradise Lodge both hilarity and drama ensues. A truly lovely read that will warm your heart (and make you start saving for retriement!). 


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May Book Reviews

may books 1  

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney* 

Oh gosh, this book. I loved it. It’s acerbically funny, nostalgically touching and just so wonderful. I can’t really believe that it’s a debut because it just feels so substantial and perceptive. The Plumb family have been relying on ‘The Nest’ – a trust fund payment they’ll all be receiving when the youngest sibling turns 40. But just before that date, Leo Plumb – notorious rogue and erstwhile businessman – gets into a car accident whilst inebriated, and the resulting fallout depletes ‘The Nest’ to almost nothing. Each of the siblings has been counting on the money to get them out of a self-inflicted problem, so they’re understandably pretty mad. As they all struggle to find a solution, old conflicts arise, new friendships form and they must all learn to face up to their choices. It’s entertaining, a little madcap in places, entirely emotional in others with a really lovely ending. Definitely one of my favourite books of 2016 so far. 

The Crown (The Heir, Book 2) by Kiera Cass*

These books are my guilty pleasure. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about them – there’s no shame in reading romance, young adult, or any combination of the two – but I can’t help it. They’re a little too saccharine sweet, the characters a little too perfect (except when they’re not…), whilst world-building and any meaningful storyline has been abandoned for pretty dresses & kissing princes. But, just like sometimes you need Gossip Girl instead of The Wire, so too do I need The Selection Series instead of A Little Life on occasion. You can easily devour one of these in a day, immersing yourself in the world of Illea. Despite myself, I really enjoyed the first three books in the series, focused on America Singer as she takes part in ‘The Selection’ – where a group of girls compete Bachelorette-style to win the hand of Prince Maxon. There’s a vague undercurrent of political unrest in this supposedly dystopian society, which is ruled by a caste system, but it takes a back seat to dates in the palace and stolen kisses between the characters. The following books, however, which focus on princess Eadlyn as she conducts her own Selection process to find a husband, didn’t have quite the same charm for me. I found myself more invested in the secondary characters who had made it from the first few books into the newer ones than I did in Eadlyn and her story. The romance wasn’t quite as exciting or, for me, realistic – and the ending felt rather rushed to me, hurrying to tie up all the loose ends which had never been fully explained beforehand (see above: world building comments). If you’re looking for escapism, stick to the first three books and don’t blame me if you get hooked! 

Girls on Fire by Robyn Wasserman*

Hannah is kind of a nobody, until she meets Lacey – who is dark, mysterious and obsessed with Kurt Cobain – and the two form a tangled, passionate friendship. They talk of riding off into the sunset together and leaving their problems behind – the fierce bully at school, the puritanical and abusive stepdad, the total ennui of being a teenager in a dead end town. Events start to spiral, and Hannah starts to realise that maybe she doesn’t know Lacey all that well after all – but what will she do when she discovers the truth? Is she in, or out? 

I feel like I’ve read a lot of books of this genre – the intense female friendships of teenage girls turned destructive. The clue is in the title, of course, but I think I was hoping for something a little bit different from this one. To me, however, Hannah and Lacey felt more like stereotypes than any real teenage girl that I’ve ever come across (and I went to an all girls’ school) – they were the bad girl and the good girl who wants to go bad, with the troubled home lives to match. I wanted to believe in them, and their friendship, but I just wasn’t rooting them in the way that I think I was supposed to be. That said, the chaos and violence of this novel is pretty compelling – you never know when the final blow will land – and the secret that Lacey has been holding onto is a pretty explosive one, which was worth sticking around to find out. 

may books 2

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison

Does anyone remember when Playboy was a Thing? Back when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were the celebrities de jour, and we were all wearing a lot of Juicy Couture? Okay, well I never wore any Juicy Couture but I remember being fascinated by glamorous Playboy bunnies – and I know I wasn’t the only one if the plethora of Playboy pencil cases at school was anything to go by. Reading this book was like time travelling back to that era – it was all so familiar, it was actually a little spooky.

Holly Madison was one of Hef’s live-in girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion and one of the stars of ‘The Girls Next Door’ TV show based on their life – and in this book she spills the secrets of what it was really like to live with the infamous Hugh Hefner. I think you won’t be surprised to find out that it wasn’t all peachy keen – in fact, it was pretty horrible and Hef himself is an abusive ‘boyfriend’, which makes some parts hard to read. Holly charts how she ended up living at the Mansion, and how she eventually finds her freedom – as well as dishing plenty of juicy secrets about celebrities and the Playboy life. It’s quite a one-sided look at events (it is a memoir, so that is understandable but she glosses over the manipulative or mean quips that she makes – not necessarily without justification – and focuses a lot on when the other girls were mean to her) but it’s definitely an interesting look at a rather bizarre lifestyle. 

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh 

I can never resist a bestselling thriller. I get serious FOMO when I don’t know what the massive twist is, so I have to read them myself to find out (god forbid I should ever see a spoiler!). However, despite my precocious desire to know everything being satisfied, I often find them to be a little disappointing. For all its faults, Gone Girl has set the bar incredibly high with beautiful prose, dark and twisted characters and an about-turn (or two) that will genuinely shock and surprise you. Obviously, it is not the fault of the authors that all subsequent thrillers written by women have been marketed to fans of Gone Girl, but it can’t help but linger in the back of your mind.

I Let You Go is everything a thriller should be – it’s suspenseful, with a twist that I, for one, didn’t see coming, with a race towards the end that will leave you turning pages as fast as you possibly can. Jenna Gray’s whole life is turned upside down by a horrific incident; her only hope of moving on is to walk away and start a new life in a remote Welsh seaside village, but she is constantly haunted by her memories and her ever-present fear. As the story unfolds, her past begins to catch up with her and you begin to realise that everything is not as it seems…

If you’re looking for an entertaining read then this is definitely one for you – whilst the writing takes a backseat to the storyline in this case, that’s the most important part of a thriller, right? However, I don’t think you’re going to be blown away; I don’t think I’ve read that many thrillers but this one already felt familiar to me, with the broken, scared woman running from a hideous past, a policewoman who vows to do the right thing despite pressure from her bosses and a couple of more-than-coincidences thrown in for good measure. Although there are some pretty graphic scenes (trigger warnings for pretty much everything…) it was more suspenseful than truly terrifying for me. I enjoyed it, but I suspect I’ll have forgotten it before long. 

Not Working by Lisa Owens*

I wish I liked myself a bit more, and wine more than a bit less. 

This book reads like a memoir, which I actually though it was until I twigged that the author’s name is not the same as the main character. If you’ve read any Millennial memoirs, then the subject matter will be pretty familiar – girl quits job to find purpose, girl gets grief from more successful friends, girl sabotages self etc. However, despite feeling like I’ve covered this so many times before, this book still felt fresh and funny to me – so if you’re not jaded like I am, then you’ll probably love it. The writing style was unusual with little tiny paragraphs with different purposes – from telling the story to pithy observations that ring very, very true. If you’ve ever struggled to feel like your work and life is meaningful, then I think you’d really enjoy this light-hearted read. 


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April Book Reviews

April Book Reviews // Amy Elizabeth

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld*

I was so sceptical when I picked up this book, but by the time I put it down I had been utterly charmed by it. A modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice set in Cincinnati, where Elizabeth Bennett is a journalist and Mr Darcy is a brain surgeon – you can see why I was a little wary, yes? I love the original Austen novel so much and reread it as often as I can, so felt very protective of the story and of the sentiment but I needn’t have worried; Curtis Sittenfeld is quite obviously an even bigger Austen fan than I am, so diligently has she observed and recreate the spirit of Austen’s work. If anything, she is kinder to the characters than Austen once was – Lydia and Kitty, in particular, get off very lightly and Lydia actually has one of the best storylines in the novel. It’s not an exact replica, but Sittenfeld captures everything I love about the original story and adds some delicious twists and turns that I would never have expected but which added another layer to this modern story (see: hate sex with Mr Darcy…). If you’re a Pride & Prejudice fan, then this is definitely one for you.  My one complaint is about the cover, which appears to have no bearing on the book itself and is just dire – so please, do not judge this book by its cover! 

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell* 

Lois & Carly-May were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin for two months when they were just twelve years old. Whilst there, they formed a bond that would never be broken but after they were released they fell out of touch. Decades later, they both have new lives and identities but when Carly-May is cast in the movie that Lois wrote about the incident, they must face each other and their past. 


For a thriller, this book felt a little flat to me and the events were a little too far-fetched and convenient to have me at the edge of my seat. It starts out very promising – an abduction not based on murder or sexual violence with two victims selected very specifically by their abductor? Tell me more, please. But the book seems to hinge on the mystery about what ‘really’ happened that summer – when nothing really happened that much at all. Lois is the main storyteller, and we get an extract from her book as explanation for the summer’s events which makes you, the reader, at least two times removed from the truth, which is very frustrating and makes it hard to grasp at the heart of the story. Whilst teenage Lois and Carly-May were pretty interesting, their adult selves just didn’t inspire all that much excitement and were actually kind of frustrating (Lois, in particular, acts in a ridiculous way throughout the novel with very little explanation). There was one heart-stopping moment, for me at least, but it fizzled out before it could really begin. I just wanted more from this book – more action, more insight, more character. 

The Doll-Master And Other Tales Of Horror by Joyce Carol Oates* 

We all know dolls are one of the creepiest things around, which is why I had high hopes that this book would chill me to the bone. However, the focus of this collection seems to be more on disorientating and disturbing the reader than on truly terrifying them. Each was a suspenseful story, with deranged characters and an ominous feel about them, but at no point was I really scared the way I was when I read Bird Box, for instance. Some, I felt, were a little drawn out – particularly those which are monologues – and I had guessed the ending far before it came, which is quite unlike me. My favourite stories actually came near the end of the collection – Big Momma, about the new girl in town, who hitches a lift with a classmate and her rather creepy father, and Mystery Inc., about a businessman who comes across a beautiful (and profitable!) mystery book store which he is determined to make his own… These are dark stories, in truth, but they are not terrifying ones. 

April Book Reviews // Amy Elizabeth

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood*

Miss Ona Viktus is one hundred and four, and has lived a mostly uneventful life. When the Boy Scout troop send round an earnest eleven-year-old boy to help her with some chores, they form an unlikely friendship. Obsessed with world records, they embark on a project together and Ona starts to feel like she’s special after all. Until one weekend, his father, Quinn, shows up in his place to finish his good deed for him… 

If you’re looking for a whimsical, heart-warming read then I do urge you to pick this up. It’s a little slow to begin with and I had to force myself to keep picking it back up until I reached the halfway point where I began to speed through the rest. The relationship between the boy and Ona is really beautiful, and they are both wonderfully memorable characters with unique little quirks. Not all that much happens really, although you learn the life story of both Ona and Quinn, but it is warm and thought-provoking – about the value of a life, the connections we make and how we can really make an impact. I don’t think I’ll rush to pick this back up again, but it will stick with me for a good while longer. 

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard* 

I am so easily sucked into this little novellas that are starting to pop up everywhere around young adult trilogies. I just always want to know more – and Cruel Crown tells the story of two women who feature prominently in the Red Queen series but who don’t get a chance to tell their own tales. Queen Song tells how Queen Coriane became the first wife of King Tiberias, amongst deadly challenges from her rivals, whilst Steel Scars gives us Farley’s back story as she travels the land to further the Red cause. These were both enjoyable enough stories, but I don’t think they added anything particularly to the overall story arc of the series. Whilst I found Queen Song compelling – who doesn’t love a bit of royal romance and some intrigue – I wanted much more from Steel Scars which I actually found quite dull. If you’re a big fan of the series, you might want to check these out – but if you’re more of a casual observer like me then I’d give it a miss and wait it out until the next instalment! 

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Elena loves Star Wars, and she’s determined to queue for the new movie despite her mother’s warnings to the contrary. She’s expecting parties to happen and lifelong friendships to form. Instead, there are just three people in the queue (including Elena) and she doesn’t think that either of them understand how she really feels about Star Wars. 

I honestly don’t know how Rainbow Rowell does it. She is some sort of magician. Every time, I fall head over heels for her characters and find myself rooting for romance – which is so not my usual style. This is a short novella, published for World Book Day, and is a perfect one day read if you need something to make you feel good about the world again.


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