Thursday, 1 April 2021

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud

Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety. This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.

Anyone who knows me will know both how much I love Stroud’s Lockwood and Co series and how much I adore a good dystopian. So, this was a no-brainer to me! Set in an apocalyptic future, where Britain has divided itself into seven “kingdoms”, we follow Scarlett and Albert travels through Wessex, the wilds of the Cotswolds! As I live in that area, it was weird to see town names that I recognised but twisted to survive in this future.

Scarlett is a bank robber, primarily, although she also travels, sells dubious “religious artifacts” and, only as a last resort of course, kills. After a job goes very nearly wrong, Scarlett is forced to run to avoid being caught by the town’s militia and discovers a bus crash. Against all odds, amid this bus crash is Albert, a stringy-looking boy who is uncharacteristically bright and chatty for such a bleak world. They form an unlikely and sometimes dangerous alliance to travel together to Stow. Obviously, things go wrong, people get killed, they need to change plans and rob more banks… you know, the usual. As they are chased across Wessex, we learn more about them, and they discover secrets about each other – especially the reason they are being chased in the first place.

Stroud has an excellent way of telling a story without revealing too much; the reader ever so slowly puts the pieces together about Scarlett’s past, about the way this world works (or doesn’t, depending on the point of view) and most importantly, about Albert. Not only was it about unlikely friendships but it had strong themes of family, trust and survival. Another winner from Stroud, as far as I’m concerned, and a world and set of characters that I’d love to hear more about.

Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

Everyone in school knows about Locker 89. If you slip a letter in outlining your relationship woes, along with a fiver, an anonymous source will email you with the best advice you've ever gotten.

Darcy Phillips, a quiet, sweet junior, is safe in the knowledge no one knows she's the genius behind locker 89. Until Brougham, a senior, catches her.

The deal Brougham offers is tempting: in exchange for his silence--and a generous coach's fee to sweeten the deal--Darcy can become Brougham's personal dating coach to help him get his ex-girlfriend back.

And as for Darcy, well, she has a fairly good reason to want to keep her anonymity. Because she has another secret. Not too long ago, she abused locker 89 to sabotage the budding romance of her best friend, Brooke. Brooke, who Darcy's been in love with for a year now.

Yeah. Brooke can't find out about that. No matter what.

Known only as “Locker 89”, Darcy has been providing advice to anyone in her school who asks for it, through an anonymous dead drop and email. This has worked very well for her for more than two years, until a new student waits by the locker, hoping to pay for her services in person. Though Brougham effectively blackmails her, Darcy agrees and thus begins a strange partnership to get him back his girlfriend.

I loved the premise of this: agony aunt-style advice, relationships issues, secret loves, and bi rep. I was especially impressed with the psychological take on how Darcy gives advice; she researched and learned about different attachment styles, the needs and wants for different relationships and followed other advice gurus online. Honestly, she knew her stuff!

The story focuses on two main themes: Locker 89 and the advice service, and sexuality, especially as a teenager. The advice, both wanted and unwarranted, flowed throughout and Darcy, although she knew her stuff, did mess up when it involved her friends, especially her best friend Brooke. As for the sexuality, I was thoroughly impressed with the bi rep. I have a few friends and people I follow online that identity as bisexual and I recognised some of the issues that Darcy faced with her sexuality: feeling like she didn’t quite fit in a queer space, like she’s not “queer enough”. It was very respectively written, I think – although apart from appreciating the diversity and the issues it discussed, as a cis-woman, I don’t feel I can have a proper opinion, so I’ll just say I really liked it, both as a storyline and portrayed through Darcy’s character.

Speaking of: Darcy was all kinds of adorable. And Brougham was her opposite; closed where she was open, a little stilted where Darcy was emotional. I liked them together, though, they had very good banter and played off each other really well. By the end, I could see how they complemented and bought out the best in each other.

All in all, the kind of love/coming of age story that the genre needs and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Zeus Is A Dick by Susie Donkin

In the beginning, everything was fine.* And then along came Zeus.
*more or less

Ahh Greek myths. Those glorious tales of heroism, honour and... petty squabbles, soap-opera drama and more weird sex than Fifty Shades of Grey could shake a stick at!

It's about time we stopped respecting myths and started laughing at them - because they're really very weird. Did you know Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, was born of some discarded genitals? Or that Hera threw her own son off a mountain because he was ugly? Or that Apollo once kidnapped a boat full of people while pretending to be a dolphin?

And let's not even get started on Zeus - king of the gods, ruler of the skies and a man who's never heard of self-control. In fact, if there's one thing most Greek myths have in common, it's that all the drama could have been avoided if SOMEONE could keep it in their toga...

Horrible Histories writer Susie Donkin takes us on a hilarious romp through mythology and the many times the gods (literally) screwed everything up! Stephen Fry's Mythos by way of Drunk History, Zeus is a Dick is perfect for those who like their myths with a heavy dollop of satire.

You can tell that Susie Donkin writes for Horrible Histories – the narrative style was very informal, crude and honestly like a soap opera. If the ancient Greek gods mingled with the cast of “Geordie Shore”, I wouldn’t be surprised, or be able to tell the difference!

This was a quickfire rundown of Greek mythology, giving a brief and speedy recap to the major players and how they related to each other – spoiler, they are all in fact literally related to each other! I really appreciated this format; it was nice to have a timeline to the random myths I’d always been aware of. And like the cast of “Geordie Shore”, the Greek gods were insane, horny and irresponsible. Donkin did an OK job of highlighting the wrongness of many of their actions, although I did tire of the writing style quite quickly. This is definitely a book to dip in and out of.

My understanding of the origin of myths is that ancient society used the stories to explain the world around them; the sea, the land, our relationships, even death, are controlled by the gods and that is who we need to appease so we don’t die from disease or famine. This is also why, I believe, so many myths are misogynistic and often involve rape: because the society that created them viewed women as lesser, so the gods did too.

Of course, this is my understanding and may be entirely wrong, but from my perspective, I can somewhat understand why Donkin wanted to write in this style: because the gods did do weird and stupid things and the subject matter lends itself to campfire stories. I can also understand why some readers didn’t appreciate Donkin’s assumptions of ancient Greeks’ motivation, because obviously there is no way to know why these myths were created.

Anyway, although the writing style took some getting used to, I actually liked this collection of myths. It was quite simplistic, assumed too many things and definitely brushed over a lot of details, but for an overall history of the Greek gods and goddesses, I thought it was good.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Snow White's stepmother wanted to get rid of the beautiful stepdaughter who was challenging her title of 'most beautiful' - by any means necessary. Was Snow White poisoned? What happens to the poisoned, and the poisoner?

Jennifer Donnelly turns her feminist eye to this most delicious of fairy tales and shows Snow White as she's never been seen before.

Sophie is Snow White, with hair black as coal and lips red as apples. You all know the story, but Donnelly has put a fantastic feminist twist on this retelling, focussing on the importance of kindness and the strength needed in a male-dominated world.

You know that saying: history is written by the winners? Well in this case, it has been written by the men. The wicked queen wasn’t all that wicked, she had to be extra strong to keep the throne in a world where men didn’t like women in charge; and she wasn’t vain, asking the mirror who was the fairest of them all, but rather asking how to keep herself in power; Snow White herself was kind but that didn’t make her passive or weak, it was how she persevered and cared for her kingdom.

I really enjoyed this; as a fan of the Brothers Grimm tales and of all fairy tale retellings, I greatly appreciated the new spin and the little hints to the original, like the three attempts of murder that the stepmother tried: the laces, the hair comb and finally the poisoned apple. While it almost felt slow-paced, Sophie traversed most of her kingdom and met a lot of people, some friendly and some foes, on her quest to topple the queen and get her heart back from the King of Crows. Speaking of whom, the personification of fear and pain was fascinating and very clever, especially mixed with the metaphor of cutting out Sophie’s heart – which would not only kill her but also remove her kindness and goodness. It was only the quick thinking of the “seven brothers” that saved Sophie’s soul and allowed her some extra time to make a plan and discover her own strength. 

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 21 August 2020

Mini Reviews: Cinderella Is Dead and Chasing Lucky

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
It's 200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over.

Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she's tiny until the night she's sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball are forfeited.

But Sophia doesn't want to be chosen – she's in love with her best friend, Erin, and hates the idea of being traded like cattle. And when Sophia's night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella's tomb. And there she meets someone who will show her that she has the power to remake her world.

The premise of this was fascinating and well executed: women have been manipulated into believing the sugar-coated version of Cinderella’s love story and anyone who doesn’t fit the strict male-dominated values is imprisoned. Sophia is terrified of the ball, of being pawed and leered at, of being a pawn in a man’s game, so she flees. In the hidden mausoleum of Cinderella’s final resting place, she meets Constance, who is like her and wants to topple the unfair system and the lies surrounding Cinderella’s so-called “happily ever after”. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite believe the romance between Sophia and Constance. Between Sophia still having feelings for her best friend and the pace of overthrowing the patriarchy, the romance kind of fell by the wayside. Not to say that it was badly written or anything, I just wanted to be swept up in it. But the plot? That was incredible, especially the subtle hints to the original tale and then subverting them, making the women of this story take centre stage, as is right.

There were lots of twists and turns, it was very fast paced and full of secrets waiting to be uncovered. I even gasped a few times with surprise! All in all, a solid read for me, maybe could have benefited from a bit more world-building but the message and the story were great.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett
Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it's not forever, so there's no reason to change her modus operandi—keeping to herself, dreaming of the day she can leave.

But after a disastrous summer party, a poorly executed act of revenge lands her in big-time trouble. As in, jail...alongside the last person with whom she’d want to share a mugshot: the son of the boat mechanic across the street, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend.

Josie and Lucky become the talk of their coastal small town. But during a summer of secrets, everything changes, and 
the easy friendship they once shared grows into something deeper and more complicated. Can Josie and Lucky swim past obstacles that come with rough waters, or will they both go down together?

Jenn Bennett is on my auto-buy list, she is a brilliant author and her stories always just wrap me up and break me a little bit, and “Chasing Lucky” was no different. Josie is a budding photographer and wants this next year to go as smoothly as possible, so she can graduate high school and intern with her estranged father, a famous photographer, in Los Angeles. Problems ensue, because of course, the main one being Lucky, her childhood best friend whom she hasn’t spoken to since she and her mum left town. Josie’s been on the run with her mother since a big fight with her grandmother five years ago. She was too young to really understand what the fight was about but for the last five years, Josie and her mum have moved from town to town, never really settling, until her grandmother asks them both to come back to man the family bookshop while she’s away. 

While this was a story about Josie getting to know her childhood best friend again, about them falling in love (which they did and it was freaking adorable), it’s also about family and secrets and communication. The reason that Josie and her mum didn’t return to Beauty for five years was because Winona didn’t know how to communicate with Josie, and because she didn’t communicate well with her own mother, Deidre. Secrets and white lies and “didn’t tell you to protect you” can’t stay hidden forever, and it is a horrible way to teach your daughter about honesty and communication between family.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Mini reviews: Beach Read and The Shelf

Beach Read
He doesn't believe in happy endings.
She's lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who likes narrati
ng her life as if she's the heroine in a blockbuster movie.
Augustus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.
January and Augustus are not going to get on.

But they actually have more in common than you'd think:

They're both broke.
They've got crippling writer's block.
They need to write bestsellers before the end of the summer.

The result? A bet to see who can get their book published first.
The catch? They have to swap genres.
The risk? In telling each other's stories, their worlds might be changed entirely...

January is reluctantly spending the summer at her dad’s secret second home, a year after he died and she met his mistress at his funeral. She is hoping to finish her new novel and get the house ready to sell, while still grappling with the confusing medley of missing and being angry with her father and being unable to get answers from him now.

Meanwhile, her new neighbour is none other than Gus Everett, literary fiction writer and rival since college. Hilarity ensues as they make a bet to write in each other’s genres, including research trips, with the promise for the loser to promote the winner’s next novel.

Secrets can be confusing, destructive and all-consuming. January is still trying to understand her dad’s and what his secrets did to her belief in happily ever after’s. This book was equal parts the warm fuzzies and harsh truths. I laughed, I cried, my heart melted, and all the while, the romantic tropes were cleverly hiding the importance of trusting each other and coming to understand that people are complicated but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a happily ever after.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Shelf
Everyone in Amy's life seems to be getting married (or so Instagram tells her), and she feels like she's falling behind.

So, when her boyfriend surprises her with a dream holiday to a mystery destination, she thinks this is it — he's going to finally pop the Big Question. But the dream turns into a nightmare when she finds herself on the set of a Big Brother-style reality television show, The Shelf.

Along with five other women, Amy is dumped live on TV and must compete in a series of humiliating and obnoxious tasks in the hope of being crowned 'The Keeper'.

Will Amy's time on the show make her realise there are worse things in life than being left on the shelf?

The Shelf started out quite awkward and cringy: a lot of fat-shaming, body image issues, a seriously unhealthy relationship being glossed over…. But then, as the women get to know each other, bond over the stupid and insane reaction the show is getting, and from the ridiculous behaviour of the host, the deeper and more complex issues are addressed. And very well, I might add!

From such a mix of women, we see a mix of attitudes; Jackie and Gemma are unabashedly themselves and labelled bitch because of it, Lauren doesn’t hide that she likes sex, Kathy is an older woman and heaven forbid we see one of those on TV! Hattie and Amy have various body and self-esteem issues, and Flick seems to set feminism back about sixty years with her desire to be a 1950’s housewife. But as we learn about them, as we hear about their backgrounds, about what they want and why they want it, the understanding comes that all of their versions of feminism and femininity are valid.

Hilarious and stupid tasks they are set, in order to prove themselves worthy of a man: taking care of a doll baby, planning a perfect garden party, and learning how to take care of your man’s needs. The whole thing made me equal parts growl with anger and giggle from the absurdity but it did make me think about double-standards, the pressures of living our lives online and the sheer performance of being “perfect for a man”, as if that’s the most important thing a woman can achieve.

I wasn’t sure I’d like it at the beginning; it was brash and weirdly terrifying in the way Acton held a magnifying glass to our society’s need to document our “picture perfect” lives online. But underneath all the gloss of Instagram and the dangers of reality television, it was about female friendship.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Mini reviews: Only Mostly Devastated and The First Date

Only Mostly DevastatedOnly Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Ollie is out. Will is not. In fact, he is beyond terrified of being outed. So when Ollie, his summer fling, transfers to his school, Will turns up the jock jokes, the mask, in an effort to deflect any possibility of their secret coming out. 

This was a super cute story of falling in love with a side story of family grief. The way the warm fuzzies of Ollie and Will are intertwined with the gut-wrenching ordeal of a family member with cancer was incredibly and carefully written.

I adored this story; the “Grease” influence was subtle and adorable, everyone’s feelings were equally valid – even when Will was a right idiot – and the friendships were spot-on. The trio of girls that Ollie befriends were all amazing in their own right, and Will’s basketball buddies weren’t just meathead jocks. I mean, there were moments but the whole toxic masculinity in sports thing was handled and then dismantled, as it turns out that men have feelings too!

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

The First DateThe First Date by Zara Stoneley
Rosie needs help. After a long term relationship ends, Rosie finds herself in the mysterious and dangerous world of dating but ends up being ghosted. Noah rescues her ego and she agrees to allow him to teach her the ways of men. Fun and witty, this book delves headfirst into the realms of online dating, the different expectations of men and women, and loving yourself before expecting someone else to love you too.

I expected a lot from this and unfortunately it didn’t quite deliver. Rosie and Noah were entertaining to read but I didn’t root for them, nor did I really learn anything about them. The one trait that Rosie had were some major daddy issues, which was constantly bought up, which might make her somewhat relatable but it was very annoying and when that’s the most interesting thing about you? That you’re constantly comparing men, especially Noah, to her dirt bag of a father? No thanks.

Also, Noah’s “teaching”: I found some of his advice sexist and also just non-existent; how is it helpful to push a friend to ask out a guy, without any hints of any kind? And then, to be angry with her for agreeing to a date! Sure, he likes her and is pettily jealous but don’t go all passive-aggressive on her for it!

Despite the lack of proper character development, I did enjoy this. It didn’t quite live up to the promise of the synopsis but a cutesy, fun read nonetheless.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.