What Happens After You Fulfil Your Destiny?: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

As much as I hate to say it, Chosen Ones is another one of those books with a great concept but not so great execution. I mean, taking the chosen one trope and grounding it in reality by looking at the aftermath and trauma that comes with it? Such a good idea! If only this fantastic potential had been better taken advantage of.

Who, What, Where?

Fifteen years ago, five teens – Sloan, Matt, Inez, Albie and Esther – were singled out by the government as potential chosen ones, prophesied to defeat a powerful entity known as The Dark One. Following his defeat, the world seemingly returned to normal. Now adults, the group is trying to adjust to living as regular people again. But how can they when they’re the most famous people around? More so, after everything that’s happened to them? Sloane, in particular, has had a hard time moving on – nightmares, PTSD, and secrets about her kidnapping by the Dark One that she hasn’t told anyone. Around the tenth anniversary of their triumph, one of the five shockingly dies and the remaining chosen ones are sent hurtling into another prospective battle with a new Dark One.

Too Long to Reach the Good Stuff

If I had to use one descriptor for this book, it would unfortunately have to be ‘a slog’. The last third or quarter of Chosen Ones is actually pretty enjoyable. Plotlines come together, secrets are revealed, there’s action, our villain develops a backstory…but gosh, does it feel like a trial to get there.

The pacing for most of this book leaves a lot to be desired. My interest would register in short bursts only to disappear again for large stretches of time. The earlier chapters deal with establishing the chosen five (plus their baggage) and the world ten years after the defeat of The Dark One. This was fine at first but after a while I found myself wondering where it was all going. Once part two hit, a major and unexpected shift in the narrative occurred which led me to believe things would start to pick up. Instead, I got some wandering around the city, character squabbling, and boring magic instruction (something I’m normally crazy about). Finally, at long last, some new characters were introduced and I began to get a better sense of the overarching conflict, allowing me to feel more engaged in the story. However, by this point, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a case of too little, too late.

Not My Chosen Ones

When it comes to slower reads, I’m 100% fine provided I have characters I can connect with and get invested in. This wasn’t really the case here. I enjoy the occasional abrasive, emotionally complicated and typically ‘unlikeable’ character, but for some reason I just didn’t click with Sloane. I’m not sure whether it was the distance created by the third person narration but I never really felt as though the book got as emotionally deep with her trauma as it should have. Regrettably, I felt the same way about the rest of the chosen ones and for a book that I believed was going to focus on exactly this theme, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

In the end, my attitude towards most of the characters in this book can only be explained as indifferent. While I thought Albie was sweet, Ines disappeared for most of the book, Matt was annoying and boring, and Esther was…eh. Both Mox and Ziva were likeable with solid potential but because of their point of introduction in the story, there wasn’t enough time to properly develop them into anything substantial.

Documents and Files

One of the things I quite liked about the book was its use of files, reports, newspaper clippings, etc. to break up the third person narrative. There may have been one or two inclusions that I found a little pointless (poems?), but overall, these were a nice way to provide context to some past events in a different way than the standard flashback. Each excerpt isn’t always relevant at the exact moment it arises, but they do provide useful world building and background information for events further on down the track.

All Grown Up?

Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first adult classified book. Despite it being targeted at an older audience, there’s a definite young adult vibe here. A couple of the themes seem slightly more mature, but the characters and writing often still have that YA feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I can understand why such an approach would fit this particular story. Here, we have several adults who lost a significant part of their teenage years training to fight a mass murderer magician in a fight they weren’t even sure they would survive. Consequently, they didn’t go through the usual milestones, learning experiences and development of normal teens and this has impacted on how they interact and behave as adults. Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to read about adults acting like bickering teenagers, but it’s believable in the context of the narrative.


The later parts of Chosen Ones give me hope for a more enjoyable sequel, yet I don’t really see myself picking up the second entry in this duology. I’m sure that the big bang ending to the book will pull a lot of readers in on curiosity to see how events play out, but I don’t think I can trudge through another 400 or so pages if I’m wrong.    

2.5 Stars

Romance for Bookworms: Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

If there’s two things I love, it’s cute, YA romantic contemporaries and Beauty & the Beast. So, when I saw that Ashley Poston was releasing the next installment in her Once Upon a Con series combining both of these things, I quickly added it to my TBR. However, as much as it pains me to say, Bookish & the Beast just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Who, What, Where?

B&TB revolves around Rosie & Vance who meet at a convention whilst wearing cosplay. The two hit it off but don’t get details about who the other is. While bookish Rosie is currently trying to plan for college and dealing with her mother’s death, Vance is Hollywood Royalty and one of the stars of the Starfield film series. After a bad press incident gets Vance sent to a family friend’s place in Rosie’s town, the two run into each other which results in the destruction of an expensive and rare book. In exchange, Rosie offers to help organise and catalogue the owner’s library. Ordinarily Rosie would be excited to be working in close proximity to Vance but as luck would have it, he’s a massive jerk and wants nothing to do with her. Cue drama.

Missed Connections

One of my biggest disappointments on this one was the characters which I struggled to connect with. If I had to describe Rosie, the word would, unfortunately, be bland. All I seem to know about her is that she loves books, especially Starfield, and she’s the girl with the dead mother (something she says she doesn’t want to be defined as but won’t stop talking about). When she’s not being bland, she comes off as annoyingly immature – I mean the girl gets told off for using her phone at work and only a few minutes later does the same thing again! With Vance, I understood what the author was trying to do and probably liked/sympathised with him a bit more. Still, it didn’t click until a fair way into the book, probably because he spends the first half being a dick for very thin reasons.

Sparks Fly?

For romance stories, chemistry between the leads is everything and here I had trouble feeling the strength of the connection between Vance & Rosie. This wasn’t at all helped by the fact that they barely interact until the second half of the book (and, even then, it’s only over a couple of weeks!). Not the best approach when you’re trying to build a relationship solid enough to believe the two characters love one another by the end. Worse still, the moment real conflict affects their relationship, Vance immediately jumps to mistrusting Rosie without giving her a chance to explain. I’m sorry, but this is not what ships are made of.

Pop Culture Heavy

Something that’s damaged my enjoyment of books in the past is an overuse of pop culture references. They stick out like sore thumbs, age books much faster, and often feel forced. A few here and there is fine but when a book starts to feel cluttered, it bothers me. Particularly when it makes up a large chunk of the characters’ interactions. Did we need several references to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to legitimise the new Starfield film as being a big deal? Not really, no. And I love Star Wars.

Stuck to the Source Material

Retellings are tricky – you want to rely on the source enough that it provides a framework and satisfies reader expectations but not so much that it strangles the ability to tell a logical, creative, and enjoyable story. My issue with B&TB is there are multiple points where it feels like it’s trying desperately to cling to the Beauty and the Beast format even though it’s silly & forced in this context (Rosie chasing a “stray” dog into someone’s else’s house). But at the same time, there are others where it doesn’t feel related at all. Plus, the direct line references to the movie that should have been cute just left me cringing – “I don’t know half of the architectural jargon, but it’s pretty, and at least…it doesn’t use antlers in all of the decorating”.


On the whole, Bookish and the Beast isn’t a bad read but it’s a somewhat flat and disappointing one, especially after the highs of Geekerella. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d recommend checking it out for yourself but as a first-time reader of Poston’s YA contemporaries, perhaps stick with the first entry.

ARC by Quirk Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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

Not Your Average Haunted House: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (ARC)

When I stumbled across Mexican Gothic several months back, my first thought was definitely: I have to read this. Okay, it was probably more like, is it possible to marry and have babies with this cover? But the immense need to read it was a close second.

Who, What, Where?

Set in 1950s Mexico, the story follows a young socialite named Noemi. After receiving a troubling letter from her newly married cousin, Catalina, Noemi travels to High Place, a crumbling, English-style manor in the countryside, to check on her.  Following her arrival, it doesn’t take long for Noemi to realise there is something off about not only High Place but the cold and mysterious family who live there. Her only ally is Francis, the shy and kind youngest son with a fondness for fungi. Determined to find answers about Catalina’s failing health, her cousin’s new family, and the weird occurrences in the house, Noemi sets out to dig deeper into the past and its secrets.

A+ for Atmosphere

The setting of this novel is easily one of its highlights. If you’re fond of misty, craggy moors ala Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you’ll feel right at home here. I really enjoyed the concept of an English style house dropped onto the edge of small-town Mexico and the interesting mixture of cultures and imagery it created. High Place itself gives off this wonderfully eerie feeling which is perfectly suited to a novel of this type. With its moulding books, peeling wallpaper, strange noises, and foggy grounds, you can definitely see the gothic influence here. Where is the Addams family when you need them? 

Multi-Thread Mystery

The plot of Mexican Gothic has several mystery elements which cover Catalina, the family’s recent and older history, High Place, and the town. They’re all woven together into a confusing ball of unknowns which Noemi has to unravel. I liked this side of the story, particularly the questions surrounding the family mine and death of Catalina’s sister in law. My curiosity for answers is definitely what pushed me through this book, especially with its slower pacing in the first half or so. However, I can’t help feeling like these plotlines fell somewhat short of their potential in that the actual investigating and clues were very limited before Noemi was given the answers in the climax.

Nightmares & Visions

The incorporation of Noemi’s dreams and visions inside the house was interesting and really added to the sick, haunted feeling of High Place. I also thought it was a great way of supplementing Noemi’s learning about the family history with additional details that it would take time to decipher. I will say though, I wish that the information presented had been clearer for the reader to understand, especially considering its importance.

Socialite to the Rescue

As far as protagonists go, Noemi is a likeable character. She’s stubborn, confident and resourceful, but also this flirty, spoilt party girl who’ll doll herself up just because she can (which I kind of loved). More importantly, she’s able to go toe to toe with others in intellectual debates and what can I say? I love smart female characters. This aside, I would have appreciated a more noticeable character arc for her and wasn’t a fan of several scenes which forced her into a helpless position for very little reason.

Err…What?

The big reveal is where things got rocky for me. I have to give the author points for creativity and taking a direction I would never, ever have guessed. Yet, at the same time, I had trouble finding it believable, mostly because it’s…really weird and I’m still foggy on the nitty-gritty details of how it all works. This direction for the story’s climax felt fairly disjointed with the earlier, slower and more spooky parts of the novel, transitioning it from suspense to all out horror. I really wish I’d gotten the answers to the major questions with more graduality and build up than all together in a final rush to the finish line.

Chemistry Lite

The romance element of the book was, for lack of a better word, okay. I liked Francis, I liked Noemi, but I couldn’t see any particularly strong chemistry between them. This was especially the case for Noemi, who seemed to like Francis but never gave off a deeper romantic connection with him. She enjoys his company, finds him comforting and thinks he’s different from other men she’s met, but she’s always thinking about the fact that he’s unattractive and awkward. Still, I did enjoy some of their sweet interactions with one another.

Flat Characters

Other than Francis and Noemi, the characters in Mexican Gothic felt disappointingly underdeveloped. Despite Virgil, Catalina’s husband, showing up frequently, I know little about him besides him being attractive and a rape-y asshole. The family patriarch, Howard, whilst given some backstory and page time to espouse the value of eugenics, isn’t present enough to act as the threat he’s supposed to be. Catalina, meanwhile, is the catalyst for the entire story and having finished the book, I have absolutely zero feelings towards her whatsoever. And then we have Florence, Francis’s mother, who again, I understand nothing about beyond the fact that she’s completely awful.   


Overall, there were some things I enjoyed about this one but a lot of others that I wish had been done differently. While it may not have been the read for me, I see horror genre lovers finding something new and interesting in Mexican Gothic.

2.5 stars

**Thank you to Quercus Books who provided an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a review.**

Murder at Magic School: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (ARC)

Magic for Liars is a book with both a solid and fun concept – I mean, a murder mystery at a magic school? – but somehow, it never really manages to scratch either your crime or fantasy itch in quite the way you’d hoped.

Noir Meets Magic

The story centres around Ivy, an alcoholic PI who has difficulty getting close to people. While Ivy herself is a regular Joe, her estranged sister Tabitha is a mage and teaches at a secret academy for magical teens (think American high school that just happens to teach magic subjects alongside the regular). When one of the teachers dies under mysterious circumstances, the headmistress hires Ivy to investigate. A murder case seems like the perfect opportunity for Ivy to test her skills and pick up some well needed cash, but it also means facing Tabitha and somehow getting a bunch of adolescents to tell it to her straight. She has her work cut out for her.

Ivy Gamble, P.I

As a protagonist, Ivy is basically how you’d imagine a standard noir private investigator to be – never far from a bottle, a loner, unresolved family problems, and accustomed to dealing with unsavoury types. However, she’s also very unsatisfied with who she is and because of this, she’s spends a lot of the novel acting out different (alternate universe) versions of herself e.g. flirty/giggly Ivy or Mage Ivy. At first, it’s fine, as it shows just how much Ivy wishes she could be like the image she has of her sister, attractive, free and special. After a while, it does start to get repetitive and annoying, especially when it predictably blows up in her face. On the upside, the plot does give Ivy a lot of opportunities to showcase that she’s very good at working out people – when they’re lying, what they want, and how best to manipulate them for information. I really enjoyed this side of her, mostly because it showed just how great of an investigator she is.

Let’s Solve a Murder

The murder mystery storyline takes a while to properly warm up. The first part of the novel deals with Ivy taking her time to learn the lay of the land (working out who the main players are & their stories, and attempting to understand relevant magical principals). Aside from a couple of tense moments during character interviews, there isn’t a heap of excitement during the first half. However, once we get over the mid-way hump, some of the little things Ivy picks up on earlier start to show greater relevance and the plot moves along more briskly. By the time events start coming together at the end, the momentum has vastly increased and everything gets dramatic FAST. You’ll likely be able to guess where things are heading, but as it’s both emotionally charged and makes sense within the context of the story, that’s not such a bad thing. I will say, though, that the ending itself does feel somewhat rushed and incomplete in that some big choices are made, especially by Ivy, and we have no idea what the consequences will be.

Red Herrings (Aka. Side Plots)

Magic for Liars involves several side plots. These weave in and out of Ivy’s investigation to varying degrees. There’s Ivy’s flirtation with the hot physical magic teacher, her fractured relationship with Tabitha, a prophecy about a chosen one, and a mysterious student relationship with a potential pregnancy. For the most part, these are designed to provide the overall book with extra colour and the investigation with some red herrings.

  • Ivy’s relationship with Rahul is a cute addition, even though it ends in a rather unsatisfying way. It’s somewhat awkward but sweet to see Ivy try to connect with someone, even if she goes about it very badly.
  • The teen pregnancy story is the most relevant to the overall mystery, but I do wish it had felt a little deeper considering it was dealing with something so emotionally heavy.
  • I really enjoyed the sections of the novel devoted to trying to repair Ivy’s damaged relationship with Tabitha. It’s interesting to see them attempt to overcome their issues with one another and realise that many of them stem from incorrect ideas about the other or a lack of communication. More importantly, this groundwork ended up being essential to the emotional impact of the book’s ending.
  • Of the four, the chosen one plotline is the one I could have done without. It not only feels unnecessary but has a predictable outcome from the moment it’s introduced.

Scientific Magic

Unlike books like Harry Potter, for instance, Magic for Liars tries to take a slightly more scientific approach to magic. In a way, it’s more akin to something like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians but less complicated or fully explained. While I didn’t always understand the terms and principles being thrown around, I still enjoyed the use of magic here and found that it served to ground the story by making the world building and plot events seem more realistic. Yet, I do wish that we’d gotten to see more of the magical elements instead of having them mostly relegated to the background.

While Magic for Liars wasn’t the epic crossover between the mystery and fantasy genres that I’d hoped for, it still possesses some solid character moments, a mildly intriguing mystery, and a decent approach to world building that’ll be enough to entertain some readers.

3.5 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.**

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.***

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?

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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

The Bookish Naughty or Nice Tag

I recently came across this tag over on The Caffeinated Bookworm Life and thought it seemed both fun and seasonally appropriate so thanks Swetlana! I then also found a version on Howling Libraries with a few more questions so I’ve added those in as well (thanks Destiny!) After all, with Santa coming soon, it’s the perfect time to find out whether I’ve made it onto the naughty or nice list for my bookish behaviour. Let’s begin!

Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

Starting this off well with a big no to this one. Each of the ARCs I’ve received, I’ve read and reviewed except for To Best the Boys which I was only approved for like two weeks ago so I think we can all fairly agree, it doesn’t count. Generally, being still a small blog with only a few ARC approvals under my belt, I want to keep my review percentage as high as possible so that publishers know I actually do read the books I’m given. Otherwise how am I supposed to get approved for more?

Have less than 60% feedback ratio on Netgalley?

I’m currently sitting on a very healthy 80%. Yay! So that’s another tick for the nice column.

Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

Doctor Who Ugh GIF

Damn, a naughty one had to come up eventually. Yes…guilty as charged. I just read so many books, take so long to write one review and THERE’S JUST NOT ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY, OKAY.

Folded down the page of a book?

scared Keke Palmer GIF by ScreamQueens

*gaps* Fold. Down. A. Book. Page. I would NEVER. How dare you.

Accidentally spilled on a book?

Spilling, sigh. I do most of my reading on the train to work and home which means I carry them in my handbag with my lunch and water. I’ll admit, there have been…accidents in the past. My poor copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will never forgive me after a bad altercation with my water bottle. *cries*

DNF a book this year?

I’m going to classify this as DNF by choice rather than I got busy and distracted. I rarely do this but this year I decided to cut my losses on two books – Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and Diving Eden by Joelle Charbonneau. Life’s too short and there are too many fantastic books to waste time on ones you don’t enjoy.

Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

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No. I have been tempted but no. I always buy with the intention to read. Money doesn’t grow on trees and nor does book shelf space spontaneously appear. But also books are just meant to be read. However, I have purposely spent more on buying a physical copy of a book rather than an ebook because I fell in love with the cover.

Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?

Hm, not really. I’m an adult who works full time so no school. Sleeping maybe? If I’m reading something good right before bed on a work night, I may on occasion do it for longer than I should.

Skim read a book?

Noooooope. I miss things when reading normally so I can’t even imagine how lost I would be if I were to skim. But also, I feel as though if I were to try and do that I wouldn’t connect with the story as well as I could and should.

Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

No! My original goal was 50 which I reached about half way through the year. I then adjusted up and then adjusted again. This has actually been my best reading year ever and I’ve smashed my own expectations. I’m now sitting on 82 books (plus the two halves of the books I DNF and one comic issue) and hoping to make 85 by the end of the year!

Borrowed a book and not returned it?

Clueless Alicia Silverstone GIF

Not this year. I don’t really borrow library books, but I am still currently holding onto a friend from university’s copy of The Great Gatsby that I’ve had for a few years now. I really do need to get an address to post that to…

Dodged Someone asking if they can borrow a book?

Sort of. I’m usually fine with lending books out as long as people return them. One of my friends likes to borrow my books occasionally but I won’t let her borrow more until she’s finished the ones she’s already got so in a way I’ve kind of done this but kind of haven’t.

Broke a book buying ban?

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Oh god. Which time? I’ve broken every book ban I’ve set this year (the self control is low with this one) except for November during which I finally succeeded! I don’t spend on a lot of things constantly, books are my major self indulgence, so most of the time I just let myself do it.

Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

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Oh yes. I’ve started a few reviews this year and been unable to finish them because I no longer remember enough detail to write a thorough review. This really pisses me off because I’ve already spent several hours on the damn thing, guaranteed. The Wrath and the Dawn was one, Queens of Geeks was another and I’m currently stuck in a series review for The Grisha Trilogy. Must finishhhhhh.

Wrote in a book you were reading?

I think my soul just died a little at the idea of doing this. The only time I’m okay with writing on books is when a book is a gift and you want to put a nice dedication at the front OR it’s a cookbook and you’re adding tips or clarifications after you’ve cooked something as a reminder for next time. I know a lot of people love annotating but that’s definitely not my style.

Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

No, I always add my books to Goodreads as I’m reading them and when I complete them. How else am I supposed to keep track of my reading goal progress for the year?

Sat on a Book Accidentally?

Um…that’d be a no.

Took the jacket off a hardback to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?

Funnily enough, no. I tend to keep the loose jackets on my bedside table while they’re off and they haven’t been damaged recently which is great because they’re too pretty to wreck. I’d probably just sit there, cradling it in my arms and cry.Divider 3

Results

And the result is…DRUMROLL…

Naughty: 5

Nice: 13 (WINNER)

Looks like I’m not getting coal for Christmas this year. How exciting! And also what a relief because I asked for more books again.

Okay guys, fess up, were you naughty or nice this year?