Friday 9 July 2021

Reputation by Lex Croucher

Abandoned by her parents, middle-class Georgiana Ellers has moved to a new town to live with her dreary aunt and uncle. At a particularly dull party, she meets the enigmatic Frances Campbell, a wealthy member of the in-crowd who lives a life Georgiana couldn't have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Lonely and vulnerable, Georgiana falls in with Frances and her unfathomably rich, deeply improper friends. Georgiana is introduced to a new world: drunken debauchery, mysterious young men with strangely arresting hands, and the upper echelons of Regency society.

But the price of entry to high society might just be higher than Georgiana is willing to pay...

Marketed as Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen, Lex Croucher’s debut novel certainly is that and more! Highly entertaining, it tells of Georgiana, who has recently moved in with her aunt and uncle, and she is bored. Until Frances appears, like dramatic whirlwind, and pulls Georgiana into her fun-filled frenzy of unchaperoned parties, indecent conversations and cocktails of drinks and drugs.

Georgiana was a perfectly flawed protagonist; she was sweet-natured but also desperate to be liked and to have adventure, and this made her naïve and cruel to others, just to impress Frances. I spent a lot of the book trying to shake Georgiana out of her self-destructive behaviour! Pulled into Frances’s friendship group with the lure of drama and booze-soaked fun, Georgiana nearly loses herself in the thick of all the excitement and attention.

Croucher does an excellent job of blending the timeless troubles of young adults finding themselves and testing boundaries, with the Georgian backdrop of societal expectations. Nothing feels forced or modernised, or indeed modern conversation pushed into historical settings, it all felt very realistic and almost classical. The issues of friendship and family are timeless, and the lengths Georgiana goes to, to change and almost lose herself, in order to impress people, as well as peeling back the shiny façade of popularity, is something we recognise from today.

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

Friday 28 May 2021

The Couple by Helly Acton

Millie is a perfectionist. She's happy, she's successful and, with a great support network of friends and family (and a very grumpy cat), she's never lonely. She loves working at a big tech firm and is on track be promoted to her dream role. The last thing she needs is romance messing up her perfectly organised world.

Besides, normal people just don't have romantic relationships. Everyone knows that being in a couple is a bit . . . well, odd. You know, like having a pet snake or referring to yourself in the third person. Why rely on another person for your own happiness? Why risk the humiliation of unrequited love or the agony of a break-up? No, Millie is more than happy with her conventional single life.

So, when Millie lands a new project at work, launching a pill that prevents you falling in love, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. That is, until she starts working with Ben. He's charming and funny, and Millie feels an instant connection to him.

Will Millie sacrifice everything she believes in for love?

After reading and loving Helly Acton’s first novel “The Shelf” last year, I knew I’d be in for a treat with her new story: discovering an antidote for love. In this world, couples are treated the way we do singletons – oh, don’t worry, relationships don’t last forever, you should be focussing on you and your dreams, how to even make decisions when you always have to check with someone else? Everything was flipped, from the reality shows focussing on breaking couples up, to people’s attitudes towards parents staying together to raise their kid, even the meal deals for a single plate! And when you look at it backwards, you realise how weird our own society is in the way we treat relationships, singletons and co-parenting.

We follow Millie, a creative manager working at one of the fastest growing hook-up apps, as she first meets Ben, a chaotic new member of the team who has very different ideas about love. As they work together on a marketing pitch for a new pill that will stop you from falling in love, they prove that old adage: opposites attract. They were super cute together, balancing each other out and learning new perspectives on the (dare I say it?) benefits of relationships.

The whole thing was pretty bizarre but very fun. The friendships especially made it for me; the network of friends Millie has around her all bring some balance to her need for control and, in Ruth’s case, shows that you don’t lose your identity or your friendships by being in a healthy relationship. It might have been a bit corny in places but it was a fascinating new spin on a romantic novel, brought to us by Acton’s brilliant writing style.

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

Tuesday 11 May 2021

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry


12 SUMMERS AGO: Poppy and Alex meet. They hate each other, and are pretty confident they'll never speak again.

11 SUMMERS AGO: They're forced to share a ride home from college and by the end of it a friendship is formed. And a pact: every year, one vacation together.

10 SUMMERS AGO: Alex discovers his fear of flying on the way to Vancouver. Poppy holds his hand the whole way.

7 SUMMERS AGO: They get far too drunk and narrowly avoid getting matching tattoos in New Orleans.

2 SUMMERS AGO: It all goes wrong.

THIS SUMMER: Poppy asks Alex to join her on one last trip. A trip that will determine the rest of their lives.

It would be an understatement to say that Poppy is a traveller at heart. She yearns to see the world and for the last 10 summers, she has been able to branch out and explore more and more of it. Mostly with her best friend Alex, who is not a traveller. While Poppy wants the freedom of the open road, Alex wants the white picket fence and the steady job. But somehow, their friendship works and every summer, they travel together and discover somewhere new.

Told across various time periods, all based around that summer holiday, we see Poppy and Alex’s friendship in college blossom and span different jobs, financial situations and romantic partners, all the way to the present where they have some serious soul-searching to do.

It is a total “opposites attract” type of love story, because on paper, Poppy and Alex do not work together at all. But in reality, they just… get each other, in a way no one else in their lives do. It is also an adorable take on the friends to lovers trope, as they circle each other, wary of crossing that invisible line that would potentially ruin things forever.

With the world being what it is right now, I lived vicariously through Poppy’s travelling – imagine being able to travel? Leave the country, just because? Imagine being in a bar?! Anyway, the settings, the tension, the weird tourist traps, just all of it was so good and I fell head over heels for Poppy and Alex.

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

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.