The Han to My Leia: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (ARC)

This book is probably one of the gayest things I’ve ever read…and my god, it was glorious. After the last two Netgalley ARCs I reviewed ended up sitting around the two-star mark, I was seriously starting to panic about ending up blacklisted for being a massive grump. Thank goodness for Red, White & Royal Blue.

Who, What, Where?

Alex Claremont- Diaz is the son of America’s first female president and has big plans for his own political career. That is, until a confrontation at a royal wedding between Alex and his so called “nemesis”, Prince Henry of Great Britain, is caught on camera, posing a threat to international relations. With the PR teams in damage control, a plan is devised to fix it: stage a fake friendship between Alex and Henry. Alex can’t imagine anything worse. However, as the two spend more time together, they start to realise that maybe the other person isn’t who they thought they were. As President Claremont kicks off her re-election bid, Alex finds himself in the middle of a secret relationship, the last thing he needs getting out to the press. But is being with Henry worth potentially jeopardising not only his own future but that of his family?

I Love You All!

I’ve had a lot of trouble lately finding book characters that I really love, but good gosh did I love these.

Alex: Cocky, smug, loud-mouthed, and YET, a damn national treasure. Never underestimate his ability to make you spontaneously break out into a giant grin. Honestly, he’s that little shit of a character that were he a real person would drive you up the wall but be impossible not to love. If that doesn’t convince you, let me also say, he’s a) mixed race, b) the grandchild of immigrants, c) bisexual, and d) has undiagnosed ADHD.

Henry: If you were sitting there going, I need another sweet, cinnamon roll character in my life, LOOK NO FURTHER. Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor has arrived. Henry is closeted gay and feels trapped by the expectations placed upon members of the royal family. He’s a romantic, big on both Star Wars and classic literature, a little more reserved, and genuinely enjoys charity work. He also has a thing for boys with chin dimples who insult him.

Henry & Alex aside, RW&RB is also full of great side characters. Even better, so many of them are amazing women. Firstly, there’s June (Alex’s sister) and Nora (granddaughter to the VP), who are the kind of people you 100% need in your support network. They’re smart, confident, ambitious, fantastic wing-women, and good at keeping Alex’s ego in check.

Nora grins. “Hmm.” She pretends to think hard about it. “Risk assessment: FSOTUS failing to check himself before he wrecks himself will result in greater than five hundred civilian casualties. Ninety-eight percent probability of Prince Henry looking like a total dreamboat. Seventy-eight percent probability of Alex getting himself banned from the United Kingdom forever.”

“Those are better odds than I expected,” June observes.

Alex’s mother, President Ellen Claremont, somehow manages to be both a respected leader and a supportive parent (but that won’t stop her from making jokes about faking your death for sympathy votes). There’s also Zahra, the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, who has no time for anyone’s, especially Alex’s, crap. She’s half scary, half hilarious. Regarding Alex’s profile fact sheet to help Henry fake their friendship:

“Does he get one of these for me?” Alex asks helplessly.

“Yep. And for the record, making it was one of the most depressing moments of my career.”

Ouch.

Laughs for Days

This book cracked me up, repeatedly. Sometimes it was the situations, but mostly, it was the banter. My lord, the dialogue, the quips, there’s just so many winners here. Throughout the book, Henry and Alex spend a lot of time texting, calling and e-mailing each other from across the world, and these exchanges are fantastically done. The two just bounce off each other magically and the chemistry is off the charts.

“In world’s most boring meeting with Philip. Don’t let the papers print lies about me after I’ve garrotted myself with my tie”…

“[W]as it a meeting about which of your cousins have to marry each other to take back casterly rock?”

** ***** **

“Alex?…Have you really rung me at three o’clock in the morning to make me listen to a turkey?”

“Yes, obviously.”

Ship that Romance!

The relationship between Alex and Henry progresses nicely over the course of the book and I feel like having the story take place over a period of more than a year really helped with this. I adored watching these two characters grow from having a rather strained relationship to friends who could light-heartedly poke fun at each other and then lovers. While the amount of gushy-lovey-dovey-ness in the middle of the book did get a bit much for me (there’s a lot of e-mails involving romantic quotes from literature and history), it’s hard to mind too much because these two are so darn cute together. Just….argggggg…*unintelligible noises*

External Angst

One of the things that frustrates me a little in romances is when characters cause conflict unnecessarily by acting stupidly or worrying about silly things. While there is perhaps one moment of slightly internal based conflict in Henry & Alex’s relationship, it’s resolved quickly (mostly by Alex swearing loudly at a bunch of people). The rest of the issues they face are more of an us-against-the world variety which is so much easier to get behind.

Political Colour

While I massively enjoyed the main romance storyline, I also like the fact that the US election was more than just a background element. By having a proper contribution to the overall plot through some choice drama moments, the story felt better tied together and the ending was much more satisfying. Some of it may go over people’s heads, but for those that are disillusioned with the current American political situation, this alternate reality will make you feel a little better (and think about what could have been).

Celebrate Queer

Honestly, this book is just so wonderfully queer positive, I can’t even find the right words to express it. Is it all a little bit too good to be real, yes, but who the hell cares? You’ve got: *SPOILERS*

  • Alex questioning his sexuality, realising that he’s bisexual and coming out to his family with amazing support
  • Henry proclaiming that he’s gay, refusing to cover it up again and finally having his family rally around him.
  • A publicly gay senator, despite adversity, kicking ass in his political career and fighting against abuses of power
  • The broader international community standing up for Henry and Alex’s relationship

All of the yes.

I could go on, but I won’t. To put it simply, this book was wonderful, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. If you’re a fan of contemporary romances and looking for something sweet, funny, charming and positive, RW&RB will be the ray of sunshine your week needs.

5 Stars

*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

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Psychic Twins, Alchemy and the Potential End of the World: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (ARC)

When I first read the synopsis for Middlegame, my immediate thought was: Give it to me. Because, damn did this book sound good. Super-human intellectual twins and alchemists seeking to use them to become gods – it all sounded right up my alley. Plus, early reactions were flowing with five star ratings. It seemed like there was almost no way I wouldn’t enjoy it. And yet, somehow, this ended up being exactly the case.

Who, What, Where?

Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. However, having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, which is believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to access a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so to gain unimaginable power.

I’m Sorry, but Huh?

If there is one emotion I associate with this book, it’s confusion, because good lord was I confused. Confused and then frustrated. This is one of those stories that holds back a large amount of information from the reader to allow for big dramatic reveals later. The problem with this approach here is that not only is the plot dealing with very complex ideas, but the answers to the big questions take so long to arrive (or never do), that you spend most of the book wondering what the hell is going on and why. What is the Impossible City? How does Reed intend to use Roger and Dodger’s powers to get there? What kind of power will reaching it grant him and why does he want that power? Somebody throw me a line here!

Slow & Messy

Middlegame is over 500 pages long and, until the climax finally starts to kick into gear, it’s a pretty slow 500+ pages. A large chunk of the plot is devoted to following Roger and Dodger through different periods of their lives. They interact with each other, go about their day to day activities, and steadily develop their abilities. Other than a few sparse dramatic events which separate them for periods, such as *spoiler* a suicide attempt, *end spoiler* that’s about it for a long time. At first, it’s not so bad, but after a while it starts to become boring and repetitive, and left me almost wanting to give up altogether. I’ll admit that things did pick up eventually, but by that point it felt like too little, too late.

*Spoilers* Another thing that bothered me was the plot’s use of time travel. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of time travel, but in Middlegame, I found its use messy and frustrating. At some point in the book, you realise that time is repeatedly being rewound to try to alter certain outcomes. Because of this, aside from a few crucial, fixed events, most of the story you’ve read thus far hasn’t happened as you read it. Like, WHAT??? Worse, the timeline continues to chop and change even after this point. Cue pulling my hair out…now. *End spoilers*

Middling Characters

Middlegame gives us a lot of quality time with Dodger and Roger, from their childhoods through to their post university years. For this reason, I do have a degree of appreciation for the two as characters. McGuire manages to make them feel distinct from one another and the relationship between the two is quite a nice element of the story, especially in the early years. Yet, as individuals, perhaps Roger more so than Dodger, I can’t help also finding them somewhat dull and unengaging. By the time they had reached adulthood, I realised that while I thought they were okay people, I just didn’t have all that much of an interest in or emotional connection with them as characters.

As villains, my enjoyment of Reed and his associate, Leigh, was massively dampened by the fact that I had no clue as to what their motivations or plans were beyond: get to The Impossible City. Besides their vaguely described goals and the lengths they go to achieve them, the two don’t really have much to their characters, leaving them feeling very flat.

The one character that I can genuinely say I liked was Erin, the embodiment of Order and part of another failed set of experimental twins. She may come off a bit crazy at times and definitely does a few downright horrible things, but she’s also smart, strong and a somewhat sad character in that she’s been placed in a rather awful situation but does the best she can with it.

Middlegame is an ambitious and complex novel which on first appearances had a lot of potential to be something great. There are likely to be some readers out there who will really enjoy what it has to offer, but unfortunately the slow pacing, confusing world building, and difficulty connecting with the characters meant that this wasn’t the book for me.

2 stars

*** ARC received from Tor via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Giving It the Old College Re-Try: Again, But Better by Christine Riccio (ARC)

If you’ve been around the bookish pockets of the internet, then it’s highly likely you’ll have heard about popular booktuber, Christine Riccio, or PolandBananasBooks. If you’re a fan of Christine’s videos, then you’ll also know that she’s been working on a book since at least 2016 which is now finally at the end of the publishing road. It’s titled Again, but Better and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC.  

Who, What, Where?

Shane’s been doing college all wrong – she’s studying a major she has no passion for, has made zero friends, and her love-life is non-existent. In the hopes of changing things up, she applies for a semester abroad creative writing program in London and an internship at a prominent travel magazine. To ensure she makes the most of the experience, Shane sets herself a list of goals – kick ass at her internship, start a novel, kiss a boy, make friends, and have adventures. However, when reality begins to set in, things quickly start to fall apart. But what if, with the help of a little magic, Shane had the chance for a do-over?

Bogged Down or Too Blunt

Having watched a few snippets of Christine’s book writing videos, I know that the first draft of Again, but Better was around 120,000 words. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be until I actually read the ARC.

Now, this is a book that would have needed A LOT of editing.

Why? There’s just so much unnecessary detail. Being able to vividly visualise scenes is great, but there’s a point where it becomes information overload. Do I really need to know every detail about every street, building, corner, and shop on Shane’s journey to the supermarket? No. You’re writing a novel, not a London guide book.

On the flip side, the chapter ends have the opposite problem. While a lot of the story feels almost gushy, the chapters always seem to end in abrupt (but not cliff-hanger-y) ways. It’s almost as though you’d expect it to be the middle of a scene rather than the end. Because of this they felt a little jarring and anti-climactic, impacting the flow of the novel for me.

Didn’t You Realise, it’s 2011

A large chunk of ABB is set in 2011. This is fine but, for some reason, the book feels the need to remind us repeatedly. If I’d been doing shots for 2011 references, I’d have been on the floor. Shane playing Angry Birds. Shot. Avril Lavigne’s ‘What the Hell?’ plays. Shot. Now it’s Rihanna’s ‘Who’s that Chick?’. Double shot. Shane is re-reading City of Glass for City of Fallen Angels. SHOOOOOTTTTT. Luckily for my liver, the name dropping does calm down in the second half. Even better, Christine stops trying to casually (or awkwardly) integrate the references. Instead, she even manages to turn them into a fun part of the time travel experience.

Christine, is That You?

As someone who isn’t a PolandBananasBooks fan, after I while, even I started to notice that ABB’s MC, Shane has…er…well, a lot in common with Christine. Visually, they’re both white, blonde girls with slim builds who like their eyeliner.  Both have Italian families, social anxiety, and dream of being published authors. Christine’s username is PolandBananas20 while Shane’s blog is FrenchWatermelon19. They like the same books and music, name their laptops, and speak in the same generally excitable, “quirky” way. I get that authors are encouraged to write what they know, but when your MC is basically you, it does mean that your writing starts sounding a lot like wish fulfillment. As a result, there were parts of this that ended up feeling just a little bit cringy – especially the happily ever after ending.

A Re-Do on Boring

Plot wise, I enjoyed the second half of ABB more than the first. The way the book is set out is: Shane does London take 1#, short intermission in the present before BAM time travel twist, then Shane does London take 2#. The problem with take 1# is that much of it feels like an extended prologue – laying down the ground work for parts of take 2#. While there were a couple of moments where things picked up, most of the time I found myself bored. There are a lot of mundane conversations, quite a bit of repetition, and lengthy sections involving Shane recounting uninteresting details of her day-to-day life in her notebook.

The beginning of take 2# is where things picked up a LOT. The humour was better, the writing smoother, and the plot showed more direction. Then, to my frustration, (a) it slowed down again and (b) the characters returned to making frustrating decisions. *groans*.

A Bit of Positivity

At this point, I feel like I’m crapping all over a young author’s debut novel. So, with that in mind here are a few of the things I liked about ABB:

  • The book does have some genuinely funny elements e.g. Shane’s war with the flat’s dining chairs and her recount of the way she spent her spring break. Basically me.
  • Despite having issues with them as separate characters, I did root for Shane and her love interest, Pilot, to end up together. They have some nice interactions, especially in take 2#.
  • While the ending was rushed, unrealistic and corny, I couldn’t help finding it very cute. Stupid swoony heart, you’re supposed to be a cynic! Must be the magic of Taylor Swift.
  • *spoiler* There’s a really lovely moment during take 2# in which Shane helps out her cousin who is struggling with coming out. Super sweet.
  • I’m sure there will be people out there who can relate with Shane’s anxiety issues, and she does have a couple of panic attacks during the novel.

While I hate to say it, I wasn’t much of a fan of this one and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a big Christine viewer (because it has her written all over it). Again, but Better has its brighter moments, but unfortunately they’re often overshadowed by the novel’s lower points.

2.5 Stars

*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Waffles, Glitter, & Heartbreak: ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ by C. G. Drews (ARC)

Take some soft boys, sassy girls, a lot of heartbreak, piles of waffles, and a touch of glitter. Mix it all together and you get…well, pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a book written by Paper Fury. In the best possible way, of course.

Who, What, Where?

Sam and his autistic brother Avery have had it tough – an absent mother, abusive father, and an aunt who kicked them out. Ever since, the brothers have been stealing to get by, but not just wallets and phones. Sam also steals houses. Using his lock picking abilities and powers of observation, Sam’s great at choosing places to hold up in for a couple of days. That is, until the empty house he crashes in one night becomes not so empty the next morning. Enter the De Laineys – the big, crazy, and wonderful family that’s everything Sam’s ever wanted. Mistaken as one of the sibling’s friends, suddenly, he’s hanging out with twins Jeremy and Jack, and day dreaming about spunky, fashion designer Moxie. But Sam knows it can’t last and if they only knew the secrets he’s hiding…

I’m Happy, I’m Sad, I’m a Mess

TBWSH is a bizarre mix of different tones. One minute you’re reading about Avery getting abused and wanting to rip your heart out of your chest it hurts so bad, the next, pure happy, fluffdom hits, such as Moxie showing Sam how to eat waffles properly (*spoiler* with lots of caramel sauce!). I’ve read a few books where these different moods haven’t been integrated very well, leaving you with severe emotional whiplash. However, I can safely say that this is one book in which it just works effortlessly. For something with such dramatic highs and lows, it somehow always feels smooth and natural.

Speaking of these highs and lows, I have to say just how well written they are, especially the sadder ones. There are moments of genuine joy and others that are unexpectedly dark. Both hit you hard in a fantastic (or is it awful?) way.

Can I Join the De Lainey Family?

Just like Sam, I unexpectedly fell in love with the De Lainey family. Some members are more prominent/better developed than others, but I thoroughly enjoyed every scene in which members of them were around. Each person is different and sweet, and it’s very easy to believe a family like them exists out there somewhere. Plus, the banter is so good. I cracked a smile on many occasions during this book – it’s all so easy and amusing, particularly if it involves Jack and his swearing.

Loose Ends

While I enjoyed TBWSH, one of the things that bugged me a little were the few loose ends it finished up with. There’s the issue of some stolen money, a someone who does something to Sam and just disappears, and then, (although it’s still adorable) the sort of open-ended-ness to the ending itself. Yes, I understand I can’t always have all the answers but I’m a curious (aka. nosy) person, okay. I just have to know everyone’s alright! 

Writing Style

Something I was worried about going into this book was the writing style. I love Cait’s photography on Bookstagram, however, I’m only able to read her captions and reviews in small doses. I just find her writing very… energetic? Overwhelming? It’s not about quality, just personal preference. For this reason, I wondered if her books would read like her reviews. The answer is yes, and no. The writing still definitely screams Cait, but it also feels a little calmer somehow. Yet, there are a few choice phrases and similes that I found myself going, ‘huh?’ in response to, or finding a little grating with time. For example:

  • “Caseworkers made of black ink and hard lines”
  • Their kiss tasted of “salty tears and bloody memories and empty boxes”
  • “He can build a bridge of moons and caramel cakes”

Autistic Representation

Not only does TBWSH prominently feature a character with autism but, although this is just one expression on a broad spectrum, the representation here is done very well. Avery’s movements, speech, and behaviours are consistent, realistic and never feel gimmicky or thrown in for extra colour. He’s a well-developed and sympathetic character, and the violence and misunderstanding he faces over the course of the book truly hurt me.

You, Me, We

The relationship between Avery and Sam is great and I love how Cait was able to perfectly depict the complicated emotions associated with having a loved one with a disability. There’s love, a desire to protect them, and feelings of responsibility, but also guilt, frustration and resentment. The novel has some lovely moments between Sam and Avery and this bond really is the heart of the story. Sam just wants to protect his brother from the world but he can’t, and that’s the worst part.

Other Thoughts:

  • The book has a great start – it introduces the characters well, has a good degree of tension and really grabs you.
  • Moxie is a boss and I only want amazing things and many boxes of caramel chocolates for her.

TBWSH is a sweet but emotional read. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary about belonging, brotherhood, acceptance (and yummy snacks) that’ll break your heart and put it back together again, all in the space of 300 pages, this is the perfect choice.

4.5 STARS

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was easily one of the best books I read in 2018 (my number one pick, to be exact). When I heard that Reid’s next release was to be another historical fiction novel, this time focusing on a rock band during the 70s, I was just a little bit excited. After having finally got my hands on Daisy Jones & The Six, it wasn’t everything I was hoping for, but a fairly enjoyable ride all the same

Who, What, Where?

In the mid-70s, The Six were steadily growing in fame to become one of the biggest music acts in the world. However, it was only after they were joined by free-spirited, up & comer, Daisy Jones, that they reached true superstardom. With sold out arenas and their music on every radio station, the band seemed like they were on top of the world. Until in the summer of 1979, they suddenly split. Told in the style of a music documentary, the book details the band’s rise, success, and everything behind the scenes that eventually led them to go their separate ways.

He Said, She Said

As I’ve already mentioned, DJ&TS is not told in traditional style. Instead, it’s written as an intermixed set of interviews with all the players relevant to Daisy and the band’s story. A few people will likely find this approach choppy. While the novel does jump around from person to person, what they’re discussing is chronological and always links to common topics, events and people. For this reason I found that, for the most part, it managed to maintain a decent sense of flow. Something else I enjoyed about this approach was that, as a reader, we get to experience a variety of different perspectives on the same characters and big moments. Seeing just how differently one character interpreted or remembered something to that of another is one of the most interesting things about the story and really makes you wonder what the truth is. 

Raw Honesty

DJ&TS features a large roster of characters, but there’s only a couple that you reach more than surface level with and care about. However, Reid really does go all in on her chosen few – Daisy, Billy (singer/songwriter) and, to a lesser extent, Karen (keyboardist), Graham (lead guitarist) and Camila (Billy’s wife). The rest often feel like mere plot devices or, worse, parts of the scenery. With the novel’s interview approach, the ability to connect with the characters rests heavily on how important each character is to the overall events (which explains the list of characters above) and what they’re willing to tell the “interviewer” about their thoughts and feelings during those events. Reid’s “interviewees” are completely honest and raw about their experiences. The novel gives the impression that they’ve been sitting on all of this for a long time and it’s almost cathartic for them to finally speak about it. I may not have always liked each of the characters, Billy in particular, but I can’t deny feeling deeply for them at certain points.

The characters in DJ&TS deal with some heavy things – addiction, infidelity, abortion, loneliness, toxic relationships, being overlooked and undervalued, and they dive into all of it head on. Despite this, there are moments where I can understand some readers’ difficulties connecting with the story emotionally. However, there are also many others where it really shines with just how beautifully it describes ideas above love, trust, and being your own worst enemy.

Not a Muse, The Somebody

This is a story with three major female characters. They’re completely different and yet, all of them are strong and empowered. You’ve got:

  • Camila: a mother who believes in her family and is willing to fight to keep it intact
  • Karen: a musician who, despite pressure, rejects traditional women’s roles because she wants her career to be her greatest achievement
  • And Daisy: a performer who knows exactly what she brings to the table, does what she wants, and refuses to accept anything less than what she deserves.

Even better, all the female characters in DJ&TS, including Daisy’s friend Simone, are extremely supportive of one another. *claps* YES TO WOMEN SUPPORTING AND UPLIFTING WOMEN. For a book featuring a sort-of-almost-ish love triangle, that’s a pretty amazing thing. Don’t understand how it’s possible? Just read the final conversation between Camila & Daisy.

Go Your Own Way

One of my biggest issues with this book was the lack of a twist or big, dramatic moment. Going into the story, we know that the band broke up, but we don’t know why. As we progress through the narrative and watch the characters start to implode, there’s the expectation everything will finally culminate in a bang. As it turns out, DJ&TS isn’t that kind of story – something I wish I’d known going in, because I would have viewed it quite differently. This is a book about characters dealing with personal dramas whilst trying to be a part of something supposed to be a team effort and, in the end, failing.

Other Thoughts

  • Just like with Evelyn Hugo, the sense of place in this book is great. The feeling of 70s LA with all its shifty undertones comes across perfectly and it’s easy to get caught up in the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll vibes.
  • The story feels extremely genuine and believable – it’s so easy to forget these aren’t real people and that DJ&TS wasn’t running around, making music in the 70s.
  • The book has song lyrics scattered throughout and full songs from the band’s final album at the end of it. I am so damn impressed TJR wrote these. Talk about going the extra mile.

Daisy Jones & The Six isn’t Evelyn Hugo, but that’s okay. While the book certainly has its flaws, there’s many things to appreciate about it as well. If you’re a music fan looking for something deep, a little dark, with slower pacing, and the feel of non-fiction, this might be one to check out.

3.5 STARS

Claim the Stars: ‘Skyward’ by Brandon Sanderson

And thus, I finally understand the magic that is Brandon Sanderson. Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Final Empire, and I have a massive appreciation for its world building and magic system, but was I in love? No. Skyward, I loved. Basically, in future if anyone ever derides the fact that I read YA novels, I’m going to direct them straight to this and watch them eat their words. It’s just that freakin’ good.

Who, What, Where?

In Skyward, humans live trapped on a planet called Detritus. For decades, they’ve been locked in an airspace war for survival against a race they refer to as the Krell. For this reason, pilots are valuable and prestigious with high mortality rates. The story centres around Spensa whose dream is to fly with the DDF, just as her father did, and prove herself. However, for most of her life she’s had to live with the fact that her father was branded a coward after supposedly turning tail during the legendary Battle of Alta. When Spensa stumbles upon the wreckage of an ancient, but advanced, ship, she realises that she may just have a shot at showing people what she’s truly capable of, that is, if she can survive flight school.

Blood of My Enemies

There are some books you read where you reach a point and think: huh, has anything major actually happened yet? That’s not the case here. The pacing of this book is perfect. There are moments of tense, action-packed excitement – epic battles, shots flying, but also scenes of quieter character bonding and emotion – grieving the loss of a friend, Spensa worrying about whether she might be a coward herself because she’s scared. Honestly, I cannot say that there was one part of this book where I wasn’t genuinely sad to stop reading. And maannnnnn, that climax. That is some movie level excitement. My eyes haven’t been that glued to a page in a while. The ending itself is also wonderfully crafted and I’m so keen to see how things progress in book two.

Call Sign: Spin

As a lead, Spensa is jarring to get used to. She’s grown up on stories of epic heroes and because of that and her father’s legacy, she’s…a little dramatic. As in spontaneously utters things like, “I will hold your tarnished and melted pin up as my trophy as your smoldering ship marks your pyre, and the final resting place of your crushed and broken corpse.” …Yeah. However, once you see past this, you realise how dedicated she is. This is a girl who’s dealt with a lot of crap over the years, and she’ll live in a cave and eat rats if it means she gets the chance to achieve her dream. Spensa’s funny, hardworking, caring, spunky, and won’t leave a teammate behind. Yet, at the same time, she does mess up – says things she shouldn’t, judge people, act rashly, but she works to overcome her failures and I think that’s why I root for her so hard. Then again, I also love a good underdog.

Skyward Flight

Spensa’s team of pilot cadets features a range of loveable and interesting characters with distinct personalities. Even the ones with less screen time still manage to make an impression, and characters that start out as unlikeable (such as the Spensa’s flight leader, Jorgen) manage to undergo development to fix that. Without realising it, you become attached to this cast of brave misfits and watching them die, fail, and hurt hits hard. One of my favourite parts of Skyward was seeing them evolve into a kind of oddball family. Basically, friendship for the win. I should also mention how much I loved Skyward Flight’s instructor, Cobb, who was the perfect mixture of tough, unintentionally funny, compassionate, and damaged. If I could give the guy a hug, I would.

Lay Low & Catalogue Mushrooms

During the story, Spensa discovers a broken-down ship with advanced technology. Seeing its potential, she, with the help of her bestie Rodge, undertake the task of repairing it. As it turns out, the ship can talk (oh, can it talk) and has its own quirky personality involving a mushroom obsession and tendency to compliment shoes. I really enjoyed M-Bot and the story relating to his repair, often involving Spensa having to steal parts. M-Bot is a little like AIDAN from Illuminae but, of course, minus the bat-shit crazy elements. He’s fabulous comic relief but the interactions between the ship and Spensa are also great.

Other Points

  • The world building here once again shows off that Sanderson is the bomb when it comes to crafting engaging worlds. The detail is fantastic.
  • There are some awesome drawings of ships and flying maneuvers to help you visualise.
  • The dialogue is so well done – it differentiates the characters and it’s often very funny.
  • There’s no romance! Perhaps something that could develop into one in book two (yay for slow burns), but for now, friendship wins the day.

If you’re up for an exciting, sci-fi read with great characters, humour and emotional impact, this is an amazing choice and I cannot recommend it highly enough. All aboard the Sanderson fangirl train. Woot, woot!

5 Stars

Intense, Raw & Emotional: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess (ARC)

The Quiet you Carry is a little different from the YA books I normally read which generally tend to fall into one of two categories – fantasy or cute, romantic contemporary. But sometimes it’s good to branch out. I didn’t entirely know what to expect from this one other than the fact it would deal with some heavy subject matters and because of that, I went into it without making any assumptions. In the end, some things worked and other things didn’t.

Who, What, Where?

Image result for the quiet you carry

Nikki Barthelmess’ debut novel centres around seventeen-year-old Victoria. One night. Victoria’s father mysteriously throws her out of the house and as a result, she winds up in foster care. The events of that evening are a blur for Victoria. She believes that there must have been some kind of misunderstanding because if there’s one thing she’s sure of, it’s that her father’s account can’t possibly be true. To her frustration, she’s quickly denied all contact with her family, including her stepsister, Sarah, and moved to an entirely new town and school. With less than a year until graduation, Victoria is forced to adjust to her circumstances and rework her plans for the future. At the same time, she also has to come to terms with the events that led her there if she wants to protect Sarah.

Topics & Triggers

As I mentioned above, the plot of TQyC deals with quite a few difficult topics. Basically, break out those trigger warnings – sexual assault, paedophilia, suicide, eating disorders, children in foster care, and domestic violence. It was interesting to read about a character stuck in a foster care situation written by an author who, herself, grew up in the foster system. Because of this, Victoria’s experiences in the system and those of the kids living with her felt genuine and realistic but also gave me a lot of sympathy for children placed in similar or far worse situations.

Plot

Deciding where I stand on the plot is a little tricky. The book starts out fairly well, if a little confusingly, and does manage to hook you out of interest in finding out what happened the night Victoria was thrown out. After this, as it’s a character-focused story, the plot does meander a lot without much of an obvious point other than to simply showcase Victoria’s experiences and growth. There were certain sections of the book where I was really engaged, especially during some of the big emotional or dramatic moments which were well written and ended up hitting me harder than expected. Then again, there were also long sections, often involving Victoria’s internal monologue, during which I found myself getting bored and checking out, particularly around the middle.

Melodrama & Cheesiness

Something that frustrated me a lot as we got closer to the end, especially during the climax and ending itself, is that the writing quickly veered into being extremely melodramatic and even corny. The dialogue seemed sappy and the tone felt so over the top and manufactured that I even found myself rolling my eyes. I mean, there’s literally a moment of, “At least we have each other” and even an unnecessary and forced flashback section. As a reader, it’s hard to get starry-eyed when everything that’s happened is over a period of only about 3 months.

Characters

As a protagonist, most of the time Victoria is fairly likeable and sympathetic. She makes the best of a crappy situation and doesn’t give up. However, at times she can be snappy and her attempts to isolate herself against interactions at her new school for so long do become annoying. Still, considering what she’s been through, it’s understandable.

In terms of side characters, Victoria’s new friend Christina is enjoyably spunky, while her love interest Kale is adorably charming. I also appreciated the fact that Barthelmess developed Victoria’s foster mother, Connie, into a deeper and more complex character, even if it was a bit sudden. One character I really wasn’t on board with was Victoria’s father. Not because he’s awful (he is) but because he just never felt real to me – he’s just a really bizarre character – and this had a big impact on how I saw Victoria’s family history and experienced the overall story arc.


The Quiet you Carry is an honest and raw read. Even with its weaknesses, I consider this a solid debut with a lot of room for Barthelmess to grow. If you enjoy emotionally complex YA stories which deal with harsh, real-world issues, this may be a good pick for you.

3 Stars