Undeniable Good and the Evil it Falls Prey To: The Project by Courtney Summers

So, let’s not add ‘join a cult’ to our bucket list. But then again, I guess no one really plans to join a cult, do they?

Who, What, Where?

Following the death of her parents in a car wreck, thirteen-year-old Lo Denham was left in the care of her great aunt when her sister, Bea, mysteriously joined The Unity Project, a religious charity organisation working across Upstate New York. Now nineteen and alone, Lo hasn’t heard from her sister in years and spends her days working as an assistant to the head of SVO magazine. One day a stranger recognises her by name shortly before throwing himself in front of a moving train. The man’s father blames The Unity Project for his son’s death. Lo has always believed there’s more to the organisation and its charismatic leader, Lev Warren, than meets the eye and sees this as the perfect opportunity to not only expose the group and find her sister but to make her name as a journalist. To her surprise, Lo is granted permission to write her story and full access to both The Unity Project and Lev himself, the organisation hoping to prove once and for all that they have nothing to hide. Yet, the more Lo begins to investigate, the more she starts to question who to trust and what the truth is. But is the truth really what she’s looking for?

Lo

One of the things Courtney Summers is known for is her unlikeable but complex leading ladies, and Gloria ‘Lo’ Denham definitely fits the mould. I started out somewhat unsure about Lo. She’s acerbic, ambitious, stubborn, and because of the loss, rejection and trauma in her past, it often feels as though she walks around with a giant rain cloud hovering over her head. My connection with Lo is complicated in that while I never grew to “like” her as a person, with time I did come to care about what happened to her and to appreciate her emotional depth. Seeing other characters take advantage of her loneliness, fears and insecurities was difficult to witness and I hoped that she would find some level of peace by the end.

Having A Sister is a Promise

Like Sadie, at its heart The Project is a novel about the bond between sisters. The story is told effectively in dual timelines between Bea in 2012 and Lo five years later. Early on, I found it difficult to invest in Bea and Lo’s relationship as their scenes together are limited and mostly take place either when Lo is a baby or not fully conscious after the car accident. Yet, Summers managed to successfully build the connection over time through the intensity of the girls’ thoughts and actions to create a messy, raw and painful depiction of unconditional love.

There’s a beautiful contrast between the progression of Lo and Bea’s stories that I really enjoyed. Both girls start out with vastly different attitudes towards religion, The Unity Project, and themselves, and it’s interesting to see Bea’s eyes slowly open to the issues around her whilst Lo simultaneously seems to close hers for want of family, safety and belonging.  

Hidden Monsters

The Project is not a twists galore, drama-filled book. It’s a very slow build that takes time to get into, and as I was reading there were several points at which I wondered where it was all going. I later came to understand that this pacing is crucial to the story it’s trying to tell. As an Average Joe, it’s difficult to grasp the psychology behind people who willingly join and remain parts of religious cults. More so, how cult leaders can hold such power and sway over their members. The Project takes the time to illustrate this in a believable way. Through both Bea and Lo’s stories we’re able to see just how much influence a person can wield over those who are isolated, lost and broken by making them feel seen and valued, and giving them hope and purpose. The manipulation, control and gaslighting within The Unity Project is subtle and insidious. By the time the darkness underneath starts to reveal itself, the reader (like Lo) has been led into such a false illusion of peace and comfort that it’s difficult to recognise or process the acts of abuse so casually mentioned.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Something I’ve come to realise about Summers’s books is that while they’re classified as YA and the writing feels like YA, her stories, characters and themes are much more mature and adult in essence. After Sadie, I expected The Project would be dark, especially considering the premise. And dark it was. This is a book which isn’t afraid to delve into the bleaker sides of humanity and religion. It deals with child abuse, suicide, grief, murder, torture, manipulation, PTSD, and intimate partner violence, just to name a few topics. Some of these elements take a while to creep up and rear their ugly heads, but eventually they do. While I enjoy these types of grittier narratives for their gravity and realism, I know a lot of other readers prefer to steer clear. However, I should note that despite its tough subject matters The Project manages to retain a strong underlying sense of hope and goodness in the world that will somehow shine through no matter how dark circumstances may seem.

Mixed Bag Ending

I have mixed thoughts on the ending for this one. There are parts that I liked, but there’s certainly one major component I wasn’t fond of at all, largely because there’s no explanation for it. Over the course of the novel there are several instances of events which characters interpret as being miracles but each of these have alternative real-world explanations. The sequence of events at the end of the book, on the other hand, does not appear to have any sort of non-miracle reasoning. My issue with this is that not only does it make the ending feel too neat but it has caused me to rethink the book’s overall scepticism towards religion as truth, leaving me confused as to how to interpret some of its overarching ideas.


While The Project may not have been as completely immersive and devastating an experience as Sadie, I enjoyed this book and feel as though it mostly succeeded in what Summers was trying to achieve. If you’re looking for a well written, strong and emotionally grounded story, and are willing to be patient for a pay-off, you’ll likely enjoy The Project.

3.5 Stars

Binge Reading: How Many Adult Contemporary Romances Can I Read in a Week?

Now, looking at the title of this post you might be thinking: Why? Well, to that I say: Why not?

Okay, for a more expanded explanation: in August I finished a total of 2 books which is kind of sad and probably because I’ve been apathetic towards reading lately. Romantic contemporaries are always quick and easy reads for me so I thought, why not give my bookwormishness (what a monstrosity of a made up word) a jump start with an entire week of them?! I’m probably going to give myself whatever the bookish equivalent of a cavity after eating too many sweet things in one go is, but WHO CARES.

For fun, I’ll be scoring them using my usual star system but also doing individual ratings for sweetness, humour, sexiness/steam, and romance – just to give a better idea of their mood. I’ll also be mentioning whether they include any diversity because yo, it’s 2020. Let the week of romance begin!

Day 1-2: One to Watch – Kate Stayman-London

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Premise: A plus-sized fashion blogger goes on a reality dating show called Main Squeeze (a fictional version of The Bachelor/Bachelorette) and dates a bunch of hot guys whilst showing that bigger girls can be attractive and deserve love too.

  • Hurrah! A strong start to the week. I enjoyed this one, mostly because it was super relatable for me. As someone who’s far from a size 6, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have a protagonist who shares many of the same insecurities about love and relationships that I do. Reading about the MC, Bea’s, journey was hard but also empowering and encouraging. The body positivity message is very, very on the nose but I can mostly forgive it.
  • Diversity wise, this book is amazing. Aside from Bea being plus sized, among the contestants there’s also a black man, an Asian-American, and an asexual man. They’re all portrayed as being desirable & unlike on real life TV, they all make it close to the end!
  • The Bachelorette concept was fun and definitely why this caught my eye. However, having Bea cycle through different dates does mean that the love interests share the limelight, reducing the ability to give them lots of depth but the real focus is Bea anyway. Still, there are plenty of sweet moments and a little bit of sexual tension.
  • The book plays around with style a lot using articles, tweets and text convos in between standard third person narrative. It’s somewhat jarring to get used to at first but fine after a while.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! All the YES.


Oh god. A four star read out of the gate. It’s got to be downhill from here, right? Suddenly the books on my pre-made list seem risky and unappealing. What does Goodreads suggest instead…

This looks interesting. *checks Amazon* SIXTEEN DOLLARS? ON KINDLE? This better be worth it.

Day 2-3: You Deserve Each Other – Sarah Hogle

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Premise: Naomi and Nicholas seem like the perfect engaged couple but, in reality, these days they can barely stand one another. Now with only 3 months left til their wedding, the pair decide to try their best to get the other to end the engagement and foot the massive bill. But what if they turned their attention to working out what went wrong with their relationship instead?

  • Yes, it was easily worth the $16. This was so unexpectedly enjoyable! I love a good enemies to lovers trope but it was great to see it used in a fresh way. I will gladly read another book about two people finding themselves again and remembering why they loved one another in the first place.
  • One of the best parts of this book was easily the humour. I was surprised by how funny it was. Like, actually laugh out loud funny. The banter between Naomi and Nicholas is great, mostly because, as a couple who’ve been together for a while, they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Particularly where Nicholas’s mother is concerned.
  • The characters are very likeable, too. With the way Naomi acts at times, I should have found her childish and petty but honestly, I loved her boldness and vulnerability. Nicholas, meanwhile, can just marry me. A man who can banter, loves skittles, proudly owns a How to Train Your Dragon tie and will fight for his relationship – swoon.
  • I should also mention how seamlessly the book’s mood changed from light and fun to serious and emotional. I loved that I could enjoy myself reading about Naomi and Nicholas’s antics one moment then sympathise with their difficulties in repairing their relationship and behaviour the next.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: Nope.


We’re definitely going down now. It’s inevitable. Maybe I need something completely different. Well, different within the confines of contemporary adult romance. Just kidding. More enemies to lovers it is. But with cupcakes. Cause I love cupcakes.

Day 3 – 4: Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting

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Premise: Blaire Calloway is excited to finally be opening her own cupcake & cocktail cafe. However, her parade is rained on when she discovers hottie Ronan Knight opening a sportsbar next door on the same day. The two clash, setting off a competition for customers. But when a chain of popular bars opens their newest location across the street, the two have to work together to keep their businesses afloat.

  • Can I just say, this book has SO MANY CUPCAKES. Thank god I had left over birthday cake in the house while I was reading this because I might have died of cravings otherwise (it’s possible, okay).
  • I quite enjoyed the chemistry between Blaire and Ronan. Blaire is somewhat over the top in her reactions to things (especially at the climax of the book) but overall she’s okay. Ronan is hot – physically and in personality. He can stay. Enough said.
  • At the end of each chapter, the book incorporates “tweets” supposedly posted by Ronan and Blaire’s businesses but honestly, they’re mostly cringy alcohol & cupcake puns which offer nothing to the story. I have no clue why they’re included.
  • With romance novels I always expect some drama around the 80% mark before the couple makes up and sails off into the sunset. Unfortunately, the dramatic climax of this book is super disappointing. In fact, it’s almost non-existent and just makes Blaire look bad for thinking so badly of Ronan with barely anything to go off. That this is then followed up by an over the top and cheesy ending put a dampener on my enjoyment of the overall book.
  • The story is told in split perspectives between Ronan & Blaire but the balance between the two is really uneven, leaving Ronan with only a couple of chapters. I found this a somewhat odd choice which made me question the reason for the split at all.
  • KMC is definitely the most steamy of the books I’ve read so far this week. As in, there’s an actual sex scene. There’s also noticeable sexual tension throughout the book. So if this kind of thing floats your boat, *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour:
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★
Romance: ★★
Diversity: Nooopppee


Alright, let’s turn up the “romance” rating a bit more. I want some swoon-worthy love story here. Real depth of emotion with boomboxes outside windows. I will accept no substitutes.

Day 4-5: One day in December – Josie Silver

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Premise: When Laurie locks eyes with Jack riding the bus home one day, it’s practically love at first sight for the both of them. That is, until the bus drives away with him on the curb. She then spends the next year searching London for him until finally she finds him – introduced as her roommate Sarah’s new boyfriend. What follows is ten years of missed opportunities and complicated choices.

  • Based on the few reviews I’ve read of this book, I honestly didn’t expect to like ODiD as much as I did. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for stories told over several years in characters’ lives. I just love watching people grow, change, and experience life.
  • Normally I’m 100% in the camp of NO to love at first sight but somehow, this book actually made me believe in it for its duration. Now, if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
  • The characters in this book aren’t always logical and don’t consistently do the right thing by themselves or each other, but that’s people. For the most part, I cared about what happened to Laurie, Jack & Sarah, and genuinely wanted them to get their happy endings. ODiD is definitely one of those books where you do have to be invested in the characters and their lives to enjoy it, otherwise it’s going to be pretty darn boring.
  • I should warn you, if you hate cheating plotlines, there’s an element of it here. Physically only minor but emotionally, plenty.
  • My two main gripes are: 1) I wish the ending had been handled differently as it felt odd and abrupt when fit into the rest of the story (I mean, we’d been waiting TEN YEARS by this point). Perhaps another time jump afterwards would have helped? And, 2) I would have liked more done with Laurie’s career considering its importance to her.
  • Less of a fluffy read than the other books so far this week, but very enjoyable.

Sweetness: ★★★
Humour: ★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★.5
Romance: ★★★★
Diversity: No, again. More straight, cis, able-bodied, white people problems.


I’ve just realised that this post is lacking a noticeable amount of gay so we should rectify that right now. Bring on the LGBTI romance!

Day 5: Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall

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Premise: As the son of two rock legends, Luc has always been in the spotlight. After a compromising photo puts him in hot water with his employer’s donors, Luc is told to clean up his image by finding a respectable boyfriend. Enter Oliver Blackwood – vegetarian, barrister and in need of a date for a big event. And so the two strike up a deal: a fake relationship for a few weeks and then go their separate ways. But what happens when real feelings get involved?

  • Did I pick this book because it reminded me of Red, White and Royal Blue? Yes, you caught me. And I’m so glad I did because it was the perfect combo of adorably sweet & hilarious. I had an absolute ball.
  • The humour in this is great, mostly found in the lengthy sections of dialogue. Part of it stems from the banter and chemistry between Luc and Oliver, but the rest can be attributed to the fun supporting cast. This includes Luc’s vague co-worker Alex (my favourite) and his publisher friend Bridget.
  • I loved the relationship between Oliver & Luc. It’s an opposites attract situation which requires time to sort through the kinks but develops into something wonderful. I really enjoyed how good an impact they had one one another, especially with regards to Luc’s self-esteem and trust issues.
  • Aside from the romance, BM also involves a plot to do with Luc’s estranged, famous father. However, for something that took up a chunk of the novel, it ended up weirdly…fizzling out. It’s even more disappointing considering how much Luc’s life was impacted by his dad’s choices and lifestyle.
  • Speaking of family, there’s also an incident involving Oliver’s which I wish had been built up to more over the novel instead of becoming a factor all of sudden in the later stage of the book.
  • This book is boyfriend material in more ways than one – would for sure recommend snuggling up with it on a night in.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★★★★★
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★.5
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: Yes! We have straight, bi and gay characters in this one.


I might be able to squeeze in one more book. Just ONE more.

Day 6-7: Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert

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Premise: After a near death experience, chronically ill computer geek, Chloe Brown writes herself a list of tasks designed to help her “Get a Life”. Realising she’ll need a hand in completing it, Chloe enlists the help of talented artist (and her building superintendent) Redford Morgan, who has baggage of his own to deal with.

  • Once again, yay for diversity: this book features a black, curvy protagonist with a chronic illness. Even better, Chloe’s condition isn’t forgotten about whenever it’s convenient. It actually factors into her behaviour and how the romance plays out. It sounds like such a small thing but I adored the fact that Red was so attentive about Chloe’s pain & exhaustion, and that he always kept her condition in mind when they did things together.
  • It was interesting having a male lead who looks physically strong dealing with getting out of an abusive relationship. Not just physical abuse but emotional, too. Seeing how this trauma impacted Red’s self esteem and his painting really added something different to the novel.
  • To my complete shock, GaLCB ended up being the most steamy book I read this week! From the description and cover, it seems super cutesy but then BAM masturbation scene, public acts of indecency, dirty talk, erections & taut nipples galore…!! To be honest, it was probably too much for my liking. There were quite a few conversations between Chloe and Red which I wish had been more emotional and less I-can’t-stop thinking-about-your-body-on-mine.
  • Based on the blurb I was under the impression that there would be more elements to completing Chloe’s list and that this theme would provide a more structured plot. I was also expecting that doing these things would be the reason for Chloe’s new lease on life but it ended up mostly being about her opening up to Red. This was nice and all but I wanted something a bit more.

Sweetness: ★★★★
Humour: ★.5
Sexiness/Steam: ★★★★★
Romance: ★★★
Diversity: YES!


There we have it – 7 days, 6 adult contemporary romances. Phew! I’m pretty happy with myself to be honest. I had a fun week of reading, beefed up my Goodreads tracker for 2020 and I’m already looking forward to the next book I tackle. FYI, it will not be a contemporary romance. I’m starting to feel the bookworm cavities… Too much of a good thing.

Are you a romance reader? If so, what are some of your favourite picks?

Should I try doing this with a different genre in the future?

Summer Romance with Depth: Beach Read by Emily Henry

I think it’s time that I list adult contemporary romance as one of my favourite genres. They’re just so enjoyably bingeable. The banter, the sweetness, the steam – it’s the perfect little package I can’t resist. Almost like wiggling a Mars Bar in my face. And that’s pretty much what hearing the premise for Beach Read was. Two authors, living in beach houses, engaging in some friendly competition to see if they can write a book in the other’s genre, bouncing off one another until they eventually crack and rip each other’s clothes off… You see what I mean, right?

January & Gus

The two leads in this book are great. They’ve got complexity, great chemistry and, most importantly for romance, appropriate levels of personal baggage to dramatically bring up at opportune moments. January is a romance writer who after the death of her father and discovery of his mistress has been suffering from severe writer’s block. In the hopes of finally getting something written and recovering her sunny, hopeful disposition, she moves into her dad and his girlfriend’s empty beach house. To her surprise, her new next door neighbour is her former university classmate, and now successful literary fiction author, Augustus Everett.

Unlike January, Gus is cynical, broody, and more than happy to murder fictional characters. But he’s also sweet, funny and somewhat mysterious. Also, to my immense joy, he has none of that Alpha male type bullshit typical of romantic leads these days. Look romance writers: Proof that you can be nice and still have sex appeal!

Banter-ific!

As you can probably tell, this is an opposites attract kind of relationship and it works really well on that level. January and Gus’s interactions are perfectly balanced between fun banter and get-things-off-my chest emotional. Even when there’s not much happening plot wise, the book is enjoyable simply by having them be around each other, whether they’re terribly line dancing or writing notes Taylor Swift style through their windows. These interactions make up the bulk of the novel so thank goodness their exchanges work as well as they do.

Battle of the Authors

I really enjoy books about authors and writing so the idea of a competition between two writers involving them producing work vastly outside their comfort zones was a massive draw card here. Yet, while the competition is present and does result in January and Gus doing several research activities, it isn’t as prominent as I would have liked. Mostly because it tends to take a backseat to their romance and dealing with past troubles, particularly in the middle. It does, however, pop more to the forefront toward the end of the novel.

In Cheesy Territory

Beach Read is cute, okay. It is. It’s fun and sweet and mostly enjoyable. But it’s also kind of… cheesy and over the top at points. There were certainly a few lines of dialogue (“I don’t need snowflakes.” He kissed me. “As long as there’s January.”) and moments I could have done without to avoid the cringe factor. This is especially so considering the seriousness of some of the plot points. The book also frustratingly leans into the age old complication of failure to communicate properly. I could see it coming and resigned myself to the fact, but I really wish it hadn’t been done twice. There were also a few points at which I feel January behaved somewhat annoyingly irrational but hey, you can’t have everything.

Deceptively Fluffy Covers

I feel I should mention that because of the genre, blurb and cover imagery, this is a book people will go into expecting fluff, levity and laughter but, like me, will probably be surprised to find there’s a heaviness to it, too (something that’s become common in romance reads lately). Infidelity is a big theme in this book but there’s also the death of January’s father, Gus’s research into a cult, and both our leads’ somewhat fractured outlooks on love and life to contend with. In other words, be prepared for things not to be constantly sunshine and daisies.


As far as contemporary romance goes, this is a good choice. It’s got more emotional gravity than you’d expect from something titled Beach Read, but that’s perhaps what makes it more memorable. While I wouldn’t count this among my favourite romance reads, it’s definitely a good way to spend a few hours. If this seems like something you’ll like, there’s probably about a 90% chance that it is.

3.5 stars

Heartbreaking and Beautiful: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

If there were a pause button for our emotions, I would use it in a heartbeat to recover from this novel. To put things into perspective, I haven’t cried reading a book in around ten years. During the last 100 pages of A Little Life, I was a wreck. I’m not talking one cinematic tear down my cheek. I’m talking throat closing over, eyes so blurred it’s difficult to see the page, and snot running down my face like a waterfall. It was ugly. Lord knows how I’m going to write a structured and articulate review on this one.

Who, What, Where?

A Little Life tells the story of four friends, who after meeting at university, move to New York together. There’s Willem, the caring & good looking aspiring actor; JB, a snarky artist hoping to eventually make it to the big time; Malcolm, a junior architect slaving his way at a big firm, waiting for his moment to shine; and Jude, the withdrawn and intelligent legal associate that they all seem to revolve around. The book takes place over several decades of their lives, dealing with the highs and lows, but particularly with how Jude’s traumatic and horrific past has come to dictate his present and that of his friends as well.

An Emotional Roller Coaster

This won’t be for everyone. At 720 pages, A Little Life is a long read and could probably have been slightly shorter. For the most part, it’s not a happy one either. Sure, there are plenty of lovely moments sprinkled across the story but this is a book that deals extensively, and sometimes graphically, with issues of child physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, suicide, depression, grief/loss, drug addiction, self-harm, and a whole host of other things. To say that it’s difficult to read is putting it lightly. My heart hurt through about two thirds of it and page 641 probably fractured my soul. If you connect with the characters, it’ll put you through the emotional ringer and, if this is your kind of book, trust me, you will.

Real People

If I were ever to write a book of my own, I would be grateful even to write characters half as rich, tangible and layered as the ones in A Little Life. Each are beautifully crafted with their own passions, goals, talents, fears, failings, and histories. By the end of the book I felt as though I had spent years looking through a window into the lives of real people that I truly cared about. To be blunt, the characterisation in this novel is simply fantastic. However, while there are certainly quite a few players (Willem & Jude’s father figure, Harold, were my personal favourites), this is most certainly Jude’s story. As the book starts to make this clear, we spend less time with the perspectives of other characters, notably JB & Malcolm. In a short list of critiques of this book, I will say, this is something which disappointed me somewhat and I feel as though some chapters could have been diverted from Jude in service of his friends without harming his journey.

Jude is a talented, kind, and intelligent man but he’s also severely damaged, both physically and mentally. He goes through a great deal over the course of the novel in both past and present. The story slowly develops the difficult trajectory of his past and delves into how it influences both his sense of self and relationships as an adult. There were points where I had to wonder, how can so many terrible things happen to one person? Yet, at the same time, because Jude and the story felt so real to me, in asking this question I can’t help but feel like I’m questioning the events of someone’s life and so, I have to put my doubts aside. Jude is a complex character and A Little Life spends a lot of time helping the reader to understand his emotions and thought processes. You do grow very attached to him and genuinely feel his moments of happiness and despair.

Beauty in Prose

The writing in this novel is gorgeous. The prose is honest, flows, and sometimes Yanagihara phrases something so perfectly, you have to stop and admire it. I should note, however, that due to the length of some sentences, comma use, and the novel’s constant, almost seamless transitions between memory and present, you do need to concentrate on what’s happening or risk being momentarily confused about where and when you are.

Friendship & Love

While A Little Life is very much about trauma and self-worth, it’s also about so much more: love, friendship, and the nature of life itself. It looks at how friendships grow and change with time, how they can be lost and repaired, and the dynamics within them; it showcases inexplicable and unconditional love in all its forms, our need of it and us being deserving of it even when we cannot see that ourselves; and most of all, it’s a book about how life may be full of darkness but that there will also be light and to find joy in even the smallest of things.    


Despite its few issues, the connection I had with this book and the emotional response it instilled makes it feels wrong to give it anything less than five stars. A Little Life is a long, difficult ride, but one that’s beautiful, worthwhile, and utterly unforgettable.

5 Stars

Ghosts, Dark Magic, and Murder: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Now, this is a tough one.

Ninth House was easily one of my more anticipated releases for the second half of 2019. Magic, dark themes, secret Yale Societies and Leigh Bardugo. Why, hello there, irresistible combination. As Leigh’s first adult novel, I was also super intrigued to see how it would be different from her YA works. And yes, it’s definitely different. But good different or bad different? In the end, it’s a bit of both.

Who, What, Where?

Ninth House is set at a fictional version of Yale University. Here, the rich and powerful members of eight secret societies regularly engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a smaller ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman to join its ranks, opening their eyes to the uses and potential dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts or ‘Greys’. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position within Lethe.

The book largely flicks back and forth between two time periods – Winter & Spring. The Winter chapters take place shortly after Alex’s arrival at Yale and deal with her starting to learn about magic and the societies through the assistance of a Lethe senior named Darlington. The Spring timeline occurs following Darlington’s bizarre disappearance, with Alex now largely handling the duties of Lethe on her own. When a young woman turns up dead on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies, despite being told to do otherwise, Alex decides to follow her gut and look into it.

Dark & Mysterious

If I were grading Ninth House on a lettered scale, it’d easily get an A for atmosphere. Leigh’s version of Yale is dark, dangerous and full of secrets. Ghosts roam the streets, magical substances exist to charm people and remove their free will, and wealthy, privileged students abuse dark magic for pleasure and power. It’s an intriguing setting and grounded well by Leigh’s ability to mix her own knowledge of the real Yale with her fantastical take on it. This twisted depiction of the University is further aided by the fact that it’s also populated by a multitude of morally grey, and sometimes black, characters – people willing to do whatever it takes to better themselves regardless of the costs to others. Even Alex, herself, is not so morally clean cut, but necessarily so to be able to survive in this kind of environment.

A Trigger Minefield

As I said above, Ninth House is not a young adult novel, by any means, and it won’t be for everyone. This book goes to some dark places and the trigger warnings list for it is lengthy. Drug addiction & overdose, murder, self-harm, child rape, forced consumption of human waste, toxic and abusive relationships, sexual assault involving video and date rape drugs, and more. For the most part, these things do tie into important plot elements and character development rather than being simply thrown in for extra colour, but it’s important to be prepared if any of these are things you’re sensitive to.

Connecting with Characters

One of the things I love about Leigh’s previous books is her ability to write interesting and loveable characters. With Ninth House, however, I had great difficulty connecting with them. Alex is a complex character with clear personality traits and a detailed backstory but at the same time, it just never really clicked for me. In terms of the other characters, Darlington was easily my favourite and yet, he’s only in a small portion of the book. Then we have Lethe’s support staff and perpetual PhD student, Dawes, and Lethe’s police liaison, Detective Turner, both of which I thought were okay, but was again missing that spark with.

There are a lot of side characters in this book and at some points it does feel crowded. Society members, Alex’s roommates, Yale faculty, ghosts/historical figures, people from Alex’s past, etc. Some are better fleshed out and more important than others, but I do feel as though there could have been a slight cut back to reduce messiness and confusion.

Stop & Start Plot

The plot of Ninth House is a lot like a dying engine, stopping and violently starting at a moment’s notice. This book could definitely have been shorter than 458 pages and there are a lot of sections in which the pacing is very slow, especially early on (& the info dumping doesn’t help). Momentum on the murder investigation takes a while to kick in and even when things do start to pick up, after every new puzzle piece discovered or dramatic moment that unfolds, there’s a long, drawn out pause. This is usually to shift to character backstory or something else. If you find these side-plots interesting, you’ll get by okay but if not, there’s likely to be some periods of boredom. While I wasn’t gripped in a constant state of excitement, I will say that, for the most part, I did remain consistently intrigued in how things would turn out, even though the ending wasn’t the satisfying conclusion I’d hoped for.


Overall, for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Ninth House was somewhat of a disappointment for me. However, despite its flaws, I can still say I found it a mildly enjoyable, if bleak and at times confusing, reading experience. As to whether I’ll read the follow up, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Stars

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.**

Mini Reviews | Let’s Get Romantic: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang & The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Let me set the scene: It was December of 2018. There were four days left in the month and I was but 3 small books short of a beautifully round 90 reads for the year. And so began my chick lit binge. I mean, what’s easier to blitz through in the space of a day than adorable couples having steamy sex whilst also being frustratingly unable to see just how perfect they are for each other? Exactly.

With that in mind, I found myself tackling The Kiss Quotient & The Hating Game – two extremely popular contemporary romance books that seem to have been popping up online in recent months so frequently it feels like an epic game of internet whack-a-mole. Admittedly, it’s been a good long while since I’ve read a book in this genre, but it turns out that getting back on the horse isn’t even close to difficult. Here’s how things went with the guilty-pleasure-a-thon.

The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang |GR

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The premise of The Kiss Quotient is simple: Our leading lady is Stella, a thirty-year-old, talented econometrician with little romantic experience and Asperger’s. Hoping to improve her skills in the… “love” department, Stella hires Michael, a mixed-race escort in huge debt with a whole lot of emotional baggage. Spoiler: the two fall for each other. 

Let’s get this out of the way first, yes, the storyline is completely unrealistic. It’s Pretty Woman in reverse and would in no way happen in real life, but as I happen to freakin’ love Pretty Woman, no complaints from me.

What does frustrate me is the forced will-they-won’t-they tension in the second half. We all know you will SO STOP BEING SO OBTUSE AND SAY YOU LOVE EACH OTHER! The conflict is mostly boiled down to both parties thinking they’re not good enough for the other or that their baggage is a problem for the other person. It clearly isn’t because if it were, they’d be a complete ass. Gawd, I hate miscommunication.

This frustration aside… I really enjoyed The Kiss Quotient. The leads are so damn likeable and the romance is ridiculously sweet. I’m not autistic but even I could relate to Stella, and because of how well she’s written (Hoang herself is autistic), it’s also very easy to understand her. She’s endearing, successful and I love the fact that she comes to realise she shouldn’t have to change for anyone. Michael, too, is really lovely. He’s creative, protective, makes sacrifices for his family, and accepts Stella exactly as she is. Also, did I mention he looks like a Korean tv star? *swoon* (bonus points for including ethnic diversity too). But honestly, the best part is that they fit together so perfectly. Even just reading about the two eating ice cream makes me go aww. Get married and have babies already.

To answer your question, yes, there are several sex scenes and yes, they’re graphic. BUT, somehow they’re also the perfect combo of sweet and sultry. Hoang builds up to them slowly and oh my god, consent. Consent is dealt with so well in this book. Michael wants Stella to be entirely comfortable with whatever they do and he’s willing to take it very slowly to get there. It’s both hot and romantic. Let’s say it together kids, consent is sexy.

Finally, the book just advocates a really lovely idea – that it’s not just okay to be different, it’s these differences that make you loveable. You are who you are, not something to be fixed.

Can recommend as a super nice way to spend a frantic afternoon reading to meet a ridiculous book goal.

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne | GR

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Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are executive assistants to the two CEOs of the recently merged, Bexley Gamin publishing house. The problem is, they hate each other. Lucy can’t stand Josh’s serious and uptight demeanour, while Lucy’s colourful clothes and bubbly attitude drive Joshua nuts. When both come up for the same promotion, they make a deal – winner gets the dream job, loser resigns. Except, as decision day comes closer it turns out that perhaps Lucy doesn’t hate Joshua after all, and maybe he doesn’t hate her either. But is it real or just another round in their long-running hating game?

If there’s one thing I can say for sure about The Hating Game, it’s that it’s funny. Not just an extra hard exhale kind of funny but actual chuckle funny. The banter between Josh and Lucy, both barbs and flirting, is great but also really shows off their fantastic chemistry. Honestly, having such a smooth back and forth with another person = the dream. Snipping aside, the more personal conversations between the two are really nice as well. Slowly we get to see each character gain a better appreciation for the other and understand their issues such as Josh’s problems with his dad and Lucy’s loneliness.   

If you enjoy the enemies-to-lovers trope, this has got your name on it. I do have to say though, that I wish the enemies section or early part of the transitional period had lasted longer as once that part of the storyline kicks in, it does go a bit full throttle. The tension becomes less about how they feel about each other and more when they’re going to sleep together. Sure, that can be fun, but it does turn Lucy into a bit of sex-crazed nut for a while and result in a whole bunch of scenes that build to nothing.

Again, yes, there’s sex scenes and yes, they’re not airy-fairy either. The more graphic scenes don’t really appear until towards the end of the book apart from one exception, *spoiler* a sex dream of Lucy’s which I still kind of question the necessity of in such heavy detail. Regardless, all are glasses-steam-up level hotness, never fear.  

I quite liked Lucy as a narrator and she cracked me up repeatedly. There was the occasional childish or silly comment/action and, god, I wish her height hadn’t been repeated every two bloody seconds, but still, I appreciated her drive, sense of humour, balls (that ending, you go girl) and confidence. Josh’s at times dominating personality and aggression dragged his character down for me (ugh, alpha male bullshit) but then he’d have a particularly sweet moment with Lucy, do that…smile thing and I’d cave. Damn it.

Not perfect, but certainly a solid contemporary romance and fun way to spend a few hours. Go forth and enjoy.    

Never Forget, Never Give Up, Never Be Quiet: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

5 stars

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Now that’s how you write an author debut.

Over the years, I’ve seen quite a lot of books raved about online, but there are only a few that reach the level of The Hate U Give. This book deserves all the love it receives and more.

I confess, I spend most of my time buried in books that don’t really deal with very heavy, real-world issues. I usually read books to get away from the real world, which is why it’s taken me so long to finally read THUG – I just wasn’t sure whether it’d be something I’d actually enjoy. As usual, I shouldn’t have worried, because this book is fantastic and, above all, eye-opening.

I’m not going to write an extremely lengthy review because it’s been done thousands of times before and probably far better than I’d ever manage. So let’s keep it short and sweet.

Who, What, Where?

The Hate U Give is YA contemporary novel set in the poverty affected, crime-ridden, and heavily African-American populated area of Garden Heights. This is the home of our protagonist, sixteen-year-old Starr Carter and her family. After attending a house party, Starr gets a ride home with an old friend, Khalil. On the way, they’re pulled over by a police officer who, shortly after, shoots and kills Khalil. As the only witness, Starr is placed in a terrifying position – does she speak up, risking the wrath of not only the police but the local gangs, or stay silent, even if it means sacrificing justice for her friend?

Thoughts

One of the most basic pieces of advice people give to young writers is ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Angie Thomas has done. Thomas grew up in an area of Mississippi not too different from Garden Heights and because of this she has intimate knowledge of the poverty, crime, domestic abuse, drug issues, prejudice, education barriers, fear, and violence African-Americans face in parts of the US. But instead of just preaching to us about these issues, Angie places us smack bang in the middle of it so that we can experience them through the eyes of someone who sees it all every day.

When Starr sits in the passenger’s seat of Khalil’s car, her mind running over every piece of advice her parents have given her for dealing with police, we actually feel her terror. The idea that this is what people of colour experience when they come in contact with those who are supposed to protect them horrifies me. I don’t think I have ever been more aware of my privilege than I was in that moment and that is the power of Angie Thomas’ writing.

However, the most wonderful thing about THUG is that it’s not just about the negatives. As outsiders, we look at neighbourhoods like Garden Heights and all we see are the problems. In this book, Angie helps us realise that despite these issues, this is still someone’s home and there’s so much good we don’t see – loving families, kids playing on the street, thriving local businesses, and a tight-knit community.

THUG’s success isn’t just about its subject matter, it’s also well written, engaging and filled with memorable characters. The plot itself is very multilayered – Starr dealing with issues of race in her friendships and romantic relationship, community issues in Garden Heights, particularly in relation to drug lord, King, and then the treatment of black people by law enforcement and the media. Because of this, the plot has a lot of room to move which allows Thomas to address some intense topics with a character heavy and personal focus

Each of the characters in the novel, even the smaller ones, leave an impression, whether it be good or bad. They’re developed, distinct and actually feel like real people. As a protagonist, I found Starr to be very strong. She’s brave and possesses great emotional complexity. I sympathised with her, felt concern for her, rooted for her, and raged with her.

I wish I could explain just how big an impact this book has but even with thousands of words, I don’t think I’d succeed. Instead, all I can say is, read this book – it’s educational, emotional, and an important reminder of just how far we all have to go to achieve equality.

5 Stars

A lot Better than Fruit Cake Cookies: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han

TATBILB

Well, hello there you adorable, sweet, lovely, bubbly, fun, all the cute adjectives in the English language, book. Why yes, I do see your flaws, of which there are many, but for some reason, my brain seems to have short-circuited to the point where I can’t seem to get enough of you.

TATBILB (gosh, what an acronym, I need a breather after just typing that), is one of those young adult contemporaries that people seem to bring up among a couple of choice favourites every time the genre is mentioned in conversation. You know the ones, Anna and the French Kiss, Fangirl, The Fault in Our Stars, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaI’ll Give you the SunAll the Bright Places, etc, etc. I’ve had some good experiences with YA contemporaries and some not so good. So even though I’d already committed to giving this one a go, I went into it expecting it to be silly, childish and disappointing.

Apparently, I really need to stop going into things so cynical because occasionally the hype train does, in fact, pick some winners. And yes, I know basically everyone out there has already read this one but eh, I’m going to review it anyway because cute contemporary. And yes, I’m going to use heaps of completely unnecessary gifs.

Who, What, Where?

Our story’s protagonist is sixteen-year-old Lara Jean. She’s half Korean, dresses in outfits almost bordering on costume, bakes great cookies, is the middle child of three sisters, and has never had a boyfriend. She has, however, been in love – five times. And for every boy she’s loved, she’s also written a letter. Not to send of course, because that would be embarrassing. She keeps these love letters hidden away in a hatbox in her closet, where no one will ever find them.

That is, until one day the letters are mysteriously sent out in the post. Can you say, awkward?

The bigger problem is the fact that one of LJ’s five happens to be her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, which is a big no-no in any sense of the girl code. In order to convince Josh her feelings are long over, Lara Jean makes a deal with Peter, another of her letter receivers. By pretending to be in a relationship, LJ can throw Josh off the scent and Peter can hopefully show his controlling ex, Genevieve, that he’s over her. It’s the perfect plan, because neither of them has feelings for the other, right?

Yeah, right.

Reasons You Should Read this Book

Finally, an Asian Protagonist!

Alright, half Asian but still! Just like with Simon, it was nice to have a little bit of diversity going on in the MC department for a change and to see some representation of families that don’t often get featured at the forefront of YA. Lara Jean being mixed race also provided the chance for Jenny Han to raise a few of the more frustrating parts of being of Asian descent in a western country. Some of these are small such as feeling the pressure to dress up as only Asian characters on Halloween. However, others are bigger, like having to deal with the constant insensitive questions about where you come from (no really, where? No, I mean, where were you born?) and trying not to lose connections to your heritage whilst being surrounded by another culture 24-7.

The Romance is Adorable

Come on, this is not the sort of book you read if you aren’t keen on romance. Don’t try to deny it, you care. As I’m sure you worked out from the synopsis, there are two main love interests to Lara Jean in this story, Peter and Josh. Yes, it’s the beginnings of a love triangle but don’t worry, it never really becomes an annoyance here as LJ’s focus is always on one person at any given time and there’s none of that annoying ‘who do I choose’, ‘oh, woe is me’.

Josh is sweet, if a little boring, but as I’m in the camp of if you’ve dated someone’s older sister you MUST NOT go after their younger sister, I can’t root for him to win this one. You move that little butt on, mister. Peter, on the other hand, is that cocky, amusing guy who acts like an ass but actually has deeper emotions and a good heart. In other words, he’s the character archetype I’m a real sucker for. Every damn time. I was a goner from the moment he showed up with his fancy car wearing that stupid grin.

“That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good.”

The relationship development here is predictable but it’s still really nice to watch the two characters bounce off one another in cute sections of dialogue. While Peter encourages LJ to get out into the world instead of just fantasizing about it, LJ brings out more of Peter’s sweet side. Even just seeing Peter hang out with Lara Jean and her little sister Kitty is delightful and by the time feelings develop, they feel well earned.

It has it’s Giggle Moments

Is it even a good YA-contemporary if you don’t let out a few snorts once in a while? A few of my personal favourites:

“Oh, I used to lie all the time as a kid.” I didn’t think of it as lying, though. I thought of it as playing make-believe. I told Kitty she was adopted and her real family was in a travelling circus. It’s why she took up gymnastics.” 

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told him, even bigger than the lie about my so-called dead twin Marcella. Until a couple of years ago Josh thought I had a twin sister named Marcella who died of leukemia.” 

“Your house is lovely,” I say, even though it isn’t. It’s old; it could use a good cleaning. But the things inside it are lovely.
“It’s empty now. All my things sold up. Can’t take it with you, you know.”
“You mean when you die?” I whisper.
He glares at me. “No. I mean to the nursing home.”

Easy, Breezy, Short and Sweet

TATBILB is your typical YA-contemporary. It’s a short read and despite some sad moments for LJ, it’s still light and fluffy. Jenny’s writing is really easy to read – there’s no unnecessary descriptions, Lara Jean’s internal monologues never drag on for too long, and even the quieter plot sections still feel like fun time with the characters. The book is a great choice if you’re looking for something to break up some of your denser reads or if you’ve been stuck on another less engaging book for a while. Read this one in only a few days (or one sitting) and you’ll feel ready to tackle the rest of your TBR with enthusiasm.

Why You Might Want to Give it a Miss

The issue of Lara Jean

Alright, let’s deal with the big one first. On the whole, I didn’t mind LJ as a protagonist (her cringey use of “Daddy” aside). She’s relatable, sweet, and tries her best to do the right thing. BUT. LJ hasn’t really experienced much of the world. She’s never been in a relationship and her sister, Margo, has protected her from a lot of responsibility since their mother’s death. Because of this there are moments when her narration comes off a lot younger than sixteen. She’s naive, romanticizes things, doesn’t handle awkward situations very well, and is a little over the top at times.

For this reason, a lot of people are going to find her childish and annoying, and that’s completely okay. If you can’t handle a slightly sheltered protagonist with a lot of learning to do, then maybe this one isn’t for you.

What Mystery?

The whole reason the events in the book kick off is because someone decides to send out Lara Jean’s box of love letters. With this in mind, you’d think that part of the story would be devoted to figuring out who send the darned things, yes? Wrong. While LJ considers this very briefly at the beginning of the book, she then forgets about it completely until the answer is given to us at the very end. The culprit is ridiculously obvious but it would have been nice to have a little mystery and some more potential suspects.

Wait, it’s Over? (Except not Really)

Everyone knows that the best part of a rom-com is the end, the happily ever after where everything is resolved in an unrealistic but still love-heart eye worthy reconciliation. Well folks, if that’s what you want here, better move along because there ain’t none of that. TATBILB, unfortunately, ends in a blunt and somewhat unresolved fashion. Yes, we all know there’s a sequel but would it kill you to give a girl a bit of temporary closure. I feel like the Rolling Stones, where be my satisfaction Jenny Han?


Despite its flaws, I had a great time with this one. Perhaps it’s a little bit of a guilty pleasure read but TATBILB is just one of those books that I can’t help but love because of its tone and the fluffy, warm feelings it gave me while reading. It’s cute, and makes you feel good about the world for a little bit, so plot issues withstanding I’ll unashamedly admit that I’m so excited to read the rest of the series. Sue me. Lara Jean and Peter forever.

4.5 Stars

Let’s Go Save the World: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

3.5 stars
WW

If you’re looking for a badass female character, it’s hard to go past the amazingness that is Diana Prince, aka. WONDER WOMAN. She’s strong, brave, looks fantastic in red boots, can use a whip like it’s nobody’s business, and has the kindest heart. What more can you ask for? I mean, look at her:
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Ultimate girl crush.

For this reason I was so excited to get my hands on Wonder Woman: Warbringer. I mean Diana and Leigh Bardugo? Now that’s match up! Which is why I eagerly bought the book and then tore into it like 30 seconds later.

Kidding.

I put it on my shelf and didn’t pick it up again for about six months.

Yep, sounds completely logical to me too.

Moving along, I have read it now! *Dances* So here’s the gist physicist:

WW:W, much like the 2017 film, is a Diana origin story. In this book Diana is seventeen, living her life on Thermiskyra, and is constantly reminded that she is not in fact a true Amazon. In typical hero fashion, she’s keen to get out into the world, quest it up and prove her bad-ass ness (okay, fine, it might be her heroic-ness).

Enter Alia, a teen from New York City on holiday with some friends when her boat explodes right near the Amazonians’ border. Just like in the movie, except replace Steve with Alia, Diana dives into the sea and rescues her. Except, major problem: Alia is a Warbringer, a descendant of Helen of Troy and part of a blood line that causes immense conflict to break out in the world whenever one of them comes of age. Guess who’ll be having the right numbered birthday soon?

In other words, it’s QUEST TIME. Diana sets out with Alia, and several others, in search of a mystical spring in Greece in the hopes of curing Alia of her warbringerness before the next moon cycle. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Why You Should Read This Book:

Shield Sisters

“Sister in battle,” murmured Diana, “I am shield and blade to you.”
“And friend.”
“And always your friend.”

The friendship in this book, guys. The FRIENDSHIP. It’s lovely to see and so empowering! The central women in the novel are all well developed and very different from one another. They have each other’s backs whilst still recognising the ability of the others to take care of themselves. They encourage each other to believe in themselves and to go outside their comfort zones, but most importantly, they trust in each other’s decisions.

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As with any book of this kind, we get the big moments, the physical displays of friendship, but the best moments are the quieter ones – the conversations between Diana, Alia and Nim which showcase their hopes, fears and sadness.

Boredom? Nah.

Something Leigh really gets right with this book is that it’s constantly moving. It might not always be in a way you’d like or be guns blazing and car chases (okay, maybe in the second half it is) but there’s a sense of direction and progress right from the beginning. The action picks up in the second half – army dudes, epic plane escapes, god possessions and big fight sequences – but still allows for some nice character development and sweet moments between our heroes.

All Shapes and Sizes…And Ethnicities, and Sexualities, and everything really!

This book is a diversity dream. There’s a little bit of everything thrown in with this cast of characters and it creates a wonderful dynamic. Plus, Leigh doesn’t shy away from commentary on important topics like racism, body image, and growing up LBQTI. For example, there’s a scene in which Alia and Diana are in Target, Alia with missing shoes. She explains to Diana the necessity of getting in and out quickly because she’s bound to be targeted for a theft check based on her colour. Like, man, what can I even say to that?

Leigh, I ❤️ You

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Something that rarely ever ceases to shine is Leigh’s writing. Her descriptions aren’t overdone, and character internalisation is balanced well against occurring events. Her dialogue is smooth and always seems to achieve the right tone, whether that be dramatic or amusing, without feeling forced. Also important in a book like this, Leigh’s conflict scenes are well written and very easy to follow. It’s not hard to see why she’s so popular amongst YA readers (myself included!).

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Why you Might Want to Skip It

The Darkling, This Villain Ain’t

For most of WW:W there isn’t really an antagonist we can point to as being a major bad guy. Sure, there are elements that pose challenges for our heroes but overall there’s no clear cut individual or body (which is something I think the book could have benefited from).

That is, until the climax of the novel.

And let’s just say, I wasn’t mighty impressed with the antagonist or their motivations.

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To be blunt, they felt a bit ridiculous. I actually didn’t predict the twist but despite the impact it should have had, I couldn’t muster the energy to care, likely because I wasn’t too interested in this particular character. I kind of just sat there going, really mate? Really? However, points for a satisfying defeat of said individual using both Diana’s smarts and strength.

Modern Setting

This is more a personal preference. In the comics, Diana’s story begins in a WWII setting and in the film, it’s WWI. WW:W is set in the modern world and for some reason I’m a little sad at the loss of a historical setting. I know, the contemporary setting was crucial to a lot of Leigh’s story and the issues she addressed, but somehow Diana riding the subway just doesn’t have the same appeal as us joining her in the wonder of discovering wartime London.

Silly Story Elements

While Leigh is good, she isn’t infallible. There were a few small elements of WW:W that came up on occasion which broke the flow of the book slightly by coming off cartoonish. The villain aside, the prime example was Leigh’s use of the war based gods, with their random appearances often feeling pointless and silly. I mean, possessions followed by some cackling and taunting? Um…nope.

Diana, is that You?

As I mentioned earlier, Diana is a great character. So, one of my main issues with this book is that for large chunks of it, Diana’s character felt a little…flat, as though it could have been any unmemorable YA protagonist filling her shoes. Yes, it’s an origin story and I know Diana isn’t Wonder Woman yet, but I still expected more of a spark in her character. There were moments where I felt as if she simply faded into the background or I forgot completely who she was supposed to be. However, in Leigh’s defence, this improved in the second half and, thank goodness, righted completely by the time the climax kicked into gear.

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I enjoyed Leigh’s take on Diana and whilst I think there could have been a few improvements, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of Wonder Woman or looking for a fun read with some great, diverse characters.

My only problem: the end has left me with a craving for Bardugo’s take on actual Wonder Woman. Damn, that ending is such a teaser!

3.5 Stars

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What did you guys think of Wonder Woman: Warbringer?

Love Ashley