Overcoming Adversity and Falling in Love: ‘100 Days of Sunlight’ by Abbie Emmons

It’s summer – the season for fluffy and adorable YA contemporaries, and if any cover has ever screamed summer, it’s 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons.

Who, What, Where?

After a car accident, 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickenson is left temporarily without her eyesight. Worried that her condition may be permanent, Tessa isolates herself in a state of despair. Attempting to help her, Tessa’s grandparents place an ad in search of a typist to allow her to continue her writing. What they don’t expect is Weston Ludovic to show up at their door – adrenaline-loving, optimistic, and missing both his legs. His only condition: don’t tell Tessa about his disability. Despite her attempts to get rid of him, Weston is determined to help Tessa and even relishes their interactions, grateful to be treated like a normal person. Slowly Weston begins to show Tessa that there’s more than one way to experience the world and while she may have a disability, it doesn’t have to prevent her from living life to the fullest.

Tessa & Weston

100 days of Sunlight is told in split POVs between Tessa and Weston. For a large portion of the book, I wasn’t a huge fan of Tessa. While I understood that she was having a rough time, I couldn’t get on board with her using her condition as an excuse to treat people terribly and wallow in her own misery, especially as she’d been told by multiple doctors it would only be temporary. She does improve with time, but I feel as though this change wasn’t as gradual as it should have been. Something I would also have appreciated, and could see the potential for, was some more depth to Tessa’s character. With all the detail devoted to Weston, I couldn’t help but find Tessa’s characterisation weaker in comparison.

I really liked Weston. He’s a wonderfully warm, positive and lovely character with an admirable sense of strength and determination. Flashback chapters can sometimes go very wrong in books, but I enjoyed the ones here in that they provided great insight into how Weston lost his legs and chose to handle it in the months following. These segments really added to my understanding and appreciation of who he was as a character, and getting to spend time with Weston’s brothers and best friend, Rudy, was nice as well.

5 Senses

Once I got past the idea of Weston randomly turning up at Tessa’ house and continuing to do so despite protest, I thought the general gist of the story was really sweet, even with the slow pacing during large sections. Weston spends a lot of time trying to get Tessa to realise how senses other than vision can be used to gain impressions of the world around you. They ride rollercoasters, smell flowers, play music, and eat waffles – all of which is super adorable. Later in the book we get a very small snapshot of how these experiences have changed Tessa’s perceptions. However, I really wish Abbie had gone that extra bit further and given us a greater sense of how they also impacted her poetry (which was very visual based prior to her accident) as it was so important to the story.

In terms of structure, the book is broken up into different sections named after each of the five senses. I question the necessity of this as several of the activities Weston and Tessa did, such as watching The Sound of Music, took place outside the section for the sense they would have been associated with.

Climax/Ending

I’ll admit, I found the climax/ending of this book slightly frustrating. The fact that Tessa & Weston had feelings for each other was very clear but at the same time, after less than three months together, I felt like them being in love and to such a ‘what is life without you’ degree was too much for the timeframe. I also found Weston’s actions to be a little out of character with what we’d previously seen of him and the fact that it was drawn out in the way that it was grated on me. Still, there’s no denying how cute and aww worthy the final scene is.


100 days of Sunlight is an easy, sweet and quick read. If you’re after something comforting and cute to fill a lazy afternoon, this is a solid choice.

3 Stars

Let the Games Begin: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Ah, Caraval. *sigh* How badly I want to like you and yet, how much you disappoint me.

I first read Caraval back in Feb 2017. The hype was real and I raced through that puppy lickety-split. But by the time I reached the end of it, I found myself in such a puddle of confusion that I quickly hit the three-star button and moved on without any intention to continue the series. Flash forward to 2019 – Finale is released, and it’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The damn thing won’t leave me alone. So, what do I do? I go out to the bookstore and buy Legendary. Peer pressure is not my friend. All I need to hear is, Wait! The sequel is a million times better, and suddenly I’m having ACOMAF flashbacks. However, with my memory being what it is, in order to read Legendary, I, of course, had to re-read Caraval. Now having gone through Stephanie Garber’s debut twice, I’m finally ready to sit my butt down and review it.

Scarlett Boring Dragna

One of the biggest problems I have with this book is that as far as protagonists go, Scarlett is about as interesting as watching paint dry. You could stick just about any other YA character in her role and the book would be more exciting for it. I feel as though I’ve seen her character so many times before– annoyingly naïve, easily embarrassed, swoons for pretty boys, makes stupid decisions and, once all is said and done, extremely forgettable. Honestly, Scarlett, you’ve been wanting to see Caraval for years, finally get a chance to play, and spend the whole time trying to shorten the experience and repeatedly worrying about the same silly things despite everyone telling you it’s unnecessary. Better yet, you’re warned repeatedly not to believe everything you damn well see and hear, and what do you do? BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND HEAR. *throws up hands*

It’s All a Game

I love the idea of Caraval. I do, I really, really do. A scavenger hunt-ish competition set in a magical world of make-believe with actors, costumes and a crafted story – it’s like a murder mystery dinner on steroids. If the game had happened the way you’re made to think it will at the beginning, boy, would I have been entertained. The problem is, this is not so much a competition (because come on, as if any of those other people ever had a chance) and more a case of, let’s see how many times we can get Scarlett to wander round the island looking for Tella and test their sisterly love. Need to find a clue in Tella’s room? It’ll just happen to be the only item still there after the place has been picked clean by other competitors. Need to find the next clue at a specific location? We’ll just hope you somehow wander into this exact tent and stumble upon the info you need. I’m sorry, but it all feels somewhat underwhelming and contrived.

It’s Magic, I Tell Ya!

You all know how much I love magic. I’m an addict. HOWEVER, in order to enjoy all that magic-y goodness, there needs to be some kind of structure and explanation for it. This is a story that rests entirely on magic and what do we know about the magic in this world? Absolutely nothing. There’s portals, dresses that change shape and colour, people who come back from the dead and others who never age, locations that create certain emotional responses, dreamscapes, transference of lifeforce…and we get no explanation, rhyme or reason for any of it except that Caraval is magical because Legend made a bargain many years ago. Sorry, but what?

Me this entire book: How did that just happen?

The Book: It’s Magic!

Me: Yes, but how?

The Book: ….Magic?

Spot on Atmosphere

I’ve been ranting a lot so here’s a burst of positivity: I really like the atmosphere and vibes of Caraval. If it were possible to visit somewhere like this in everyday life, I would be yelling ‘Sign me up!’ without any hesitation. Crazy shops, extravagant costumes, mystical objects, gondolas, castles, underground tunnels – it sounds like the best theme park ever and Garber details it well. I also love the idea that the participants are only allowed to be out at night. It really gives the story that mysterious and dangerous edge it needs.

Pretty Boys

I can’t help but like Julian. It’s probably because he shares a lot of the qualities of many of my favourite male characters – charm, roguishness, good looks and an air of mystery. All that’s missing is the self-deprecating sense of humour and pseudo arrogance (although I’m sure I’ll get the second one out of Dante in book two). I also find it extremely amusing that Julian was not supposed to be part of Scarlett’s Caraval adventure beyond her arrival and he not only stuck around but straight up lied to her every day just cause. That girl who died? My dead sister. Me and Dante? Working together. That dude? Oh yeah, for sure your fiancé. I low key love how insane it is.

Also, I have to mention, I find it hilarious that Dante was all sunshine and daisies until he realised that Scarlett liked Julian better and then, because he’s clearly the prettier boy, he decided to sulk for the rest of the competition.

Hold the Melodrama

Something that bugged me even on my first read through was the extremely melodramatic and rushed nature of the ending. While I understand what’s trying to be achieved here, it’s all just too much, even verging on ridiculous. I mean, what’s with the Legend actor trying to get Scarlett to jump off the balcony? WHY? The twist I appreciate but the way in which we reached it could have been done more believably.


All in all, a disappointing read, but despite the negatives, I still find it weirdly speed-readable? For some inexplicable reason there’s just something about it that pushes me to read all the way through to the end so I’m settling on 2 stars.

Okay, Legendary, let’s do this.  

Page to Screen: Looking for Alaska by John Green & Hulu

Confession time: Until last week I had never read Looking for Alaska. That’s right. You heard…er, read me. Even better, up until the week before that I had never even wanted to read Looking for Alaska. As you have gathered by the existence of this post, this has now changed. Why? Because there’s nothing like seeing an adaptation to get me cracking on the original source material before you can say, ‘The book was better’. And…I was not a huge fan. The word ‘overrated’ may have been mentioned. With that in mind, I have something controversial to say.

The mini-series is better.

Yep, that’s right, and I’ll tell you why.

* * Spoilers for the Looking for Alaska novel & TV series follow**

Fleshed Out Characters

The LFA series consists of eight episodes, each about 50 or so minutes in length. One of the biggest issues I had with the novel was that all the characters were majorly lacking in development. With the extra room to breathe, the series rectified this substantially. While Takumi still gets shafted in terms of screen time later on, Lara, the Colonel, the Eagle, Jake and Dr Hyde all benefit immensely. They’re given more expansive histories and SO MUCH greater emotional depth. Instead of casual blips popping in and out of Pudge’s periphery whenever the plot demands it, they feel more like actual characters which makes the dramatic moments of the story resonate far better.

Finding Alaska

While we’re talking characters, as someone who tackled the series first and book second, the treatment of Alaska in the novel is a travesty. She’s a teen-boy fantasy and pretty much there only to add to the male characters’ stories. I mean, the girl dies and even then she can’t escape Pudge having dreams about her “luminously full” breasts. He also later claims he’s sometimes glad she’s dead because it feels ‘pure’. I honestly wanted to slap someone. The show makes massive improvements here, too (thank goodness). By shifting the perspective beyond Pudge’s head, we get to see Alaska as a person rather than just an object to lust after. She has moments of reflection, meaningful conversations with other characters (there’s one between Alaska and Dr. Hyde which I love) and dreams about the future. More importantly, you really feel her loneliness and lowered sense of self-worth. It’s heartbreaking to watch but gives her death much greater impact.

Plot & Tone

For lovers of the book, you’ll be glad to know that the early segments are almost perfectly translated to screen with very few changes. Some exchanges of dialogue are even lifted word for word. Yet, as the series goes on, things do start to deviate but for the better:

  • There’s more time in early episodes devoted to the prank war with the Weekday Warriors adding humour and levity to balance out the sadder tone of the later episodes
  • We see more of Alaska and Jake’s relationship including one of her trips to visit him which further shows off Alaska’s state of mind
  • The ‘Alaska is a rat’ storyline has more weight, especially on Alaska and the Colonel’s friendship
  • Pudge’s relationship with Lara is better fleshed out (poor girl, she deserved better)
  • Pudge’s attraction to Alaska is more two-sided – Alaska displays clearer feelings for Pudge than in the novel and regret in pushing him away. This makes their eventual coming together feel less impulsive and more romantic

Yet, despite these changes, the show always returns to common and important plot points from the book such as Thanksgiving, ‘best-day-worst-day’ and ‘to-be-continued’. Fans will be equally happy to know that the ending of the book also remains intact in all its ambiguous and frustrating glory, complete with an overly long closing monologue from Miles worthy of a John Green novel.

Hitting Those Hard Themes

While the LFA novel touches on things like privilege and depression, the series dives deeper into these ideas as well as themes of isolation and loneliness. In my opinion, it’s when the series is at its strongest. For example, the fleshing out of Chip’s story gives us a great look at both socioeconomic and racial privilege which greatly boosts our understanding of why he’s constantly angry. The book and series also deal heavily with grief and the associated guilt. Their approach to it is very similar but again, the show has the wiggle room to take it just that bit further and expand it to more characters such as Alaska’s father, Dr Hyde and the Eagle.

Other Thoughts

  • The music in the series is fantastic. For those looking for some early 2000s nostalgia, you’ll have a blast. The playlist includes a few old-school tracks and some different sounding (but good) covers of older tracks.
  • The casting is great. While the actors may not all physically resemble their characters, they fit the spirit of them fabulously. Kristine Froseth as Alaska is fantastic and although I’ve previously seen her in The Society and Sierra Burgess, she really shines here. I also have to mention Denny Love as the Colonel who I officially adore with all my heart for his ability to make me laugh and break my heart.
  • The characters, unfortunately, still often talk in that sometimes wanky way not typical of normal people. But this is John Green after all.
  • Watching the Colonel get kicked out of consecutive basketball matches is my favourite part of the series
  • As a massive The O.C. fan, I loved all the little extras Josh Schwartz threw into the series e.g. Pudge’s first sight of Alaska replicating Ryan seeing Marissa

As I mentioned above, I find the Looking for Alaska Hulu series far stronger and enjoyable than John Green’s original novel. Still, I feel as though this is an adaptation that both lovers of the book, despite its changes, and non-book readers/lovers (like me) will connect with and like as well.


AS AN ADAPTATION: Solid. Same opening, same ending, some additions & jumbled around plot points in the middle.

AS A SERIES:  7/10 – good, would probably re-watch.

Mutant Crabs, Body Horror and Lots of Questions: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Like a few of the other books I’ve read in recent months, Wilder Girls is another example of a novel with a great premise which manages to get a few things right but ultimately isn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. Being classified as feminist horror by a lot of people, the story is a little bit Lord of the Flies in an Annihilation like setting with some added lesbianism, gore, friendship and a military cover up.

Who, What, Where?

Our story takes place at Raxter School for Girls, a boarding school located on an island off the coast of Maine. The school has been quarantined for the past 18 months following the outbreak of a mysterious disease referred to as the Tox. Over time, the Tox has killed most of the teachers and some of the students. The infected that remain suffer as the disease continues to mutate their bodies in gruesome and painful ways. The creatures in the surrounding woods have been similarly affected, leaving them aggressive and a constant threat. Facing difficult weather conditions and minimal food supplies, all the students can do is wait and hope for the speedy arrival of the promised cure.

Creepy & Mysterious Vibes

The atmosphere and setting for Wilder Girls are spot on. It’s bleak but works perfectly for the story being told. A decaying boarding school, population constantly dwindling, buildings gradually being torn apart for whatever resources the girls need to stay alive, and surrounded by expansive forest areas inhabited by mutated, vicious animals. Power provides us with just enough detail about her world to visualise it and still be intrigued to find out more. There are some serious Annihilation-like vibes here – it’s fascinating, mysterious, ominous and, at times, downright horrifying.

Aside from setting, Power’s novel also excels where it comes to the body horror elements – something she shows a clear talent for. The book doesn’t shy away from the pain and suffering the girls experience at the hands of the Tox which affects them in a variety of terrifying and sometimes awfully gruesome ways. Scaled hands, second spines, gills, sealed eyes, extra organs, blistered skin, mouth sores that spontaneously burst, the outlook is bleak. It’s bloody and bound to make those with weaker stomachs’ skin crawl. However, I do have to say that I feel as though Power could have made better use of the Tox as an allegory for women’s struggles in society and done more with the Tox mutations as a take on puberty (or at least, that’s how I interpreted it).

Just Answer My Questions

By and large, Wilder Girls is not something I’d describe as fast paced or action packed. The story spends a fair amount of time establishing the current state of things – the disease, the student’s systems for survival, the world itself, etc. before eventually moving on to something more plot oriented and even then, these plot points aren’t exactly numerous. It took me a while to engage with the story and mostly out of an intense desire to get my questions about the disease answered. However, the answers themselves ended up being either unsatisfying, vague or non-existent. If you’re looking for something with a clear sense of closure like me, this won’t be a good pick for you. The ending itself feels rushed, incomplete and confusing, and I’m left with a frustrating amount of questions.

The Trio

There are three main characters in Wilder Girls – Hetty, Byatt & Reese, the first two of which serve as the story’s narrators. The girls are close friends and have learnt to have each other’s backs to ensure their survival. These relationships are important as it’s Byatt’s disappearance which causes Hetty and Reese to go out looking for her, setting off a chain of events. Each of the girls are what I’d consider capable and strong. Power has given them different personalities and I have no problems with their characters from what I saw of them. Yet, at the same time, I still don’t feel as though I really know them and would have appreciated some more depth, development and backstory, especially with Byatt who was the least clear to me.

Poetic & Artsy?

One of the things I found myself thinking about a lot while reading was Power’s writing style. The reason being that it’s a little odd at times and frequently adopts the kind of sentence structure that would send any grammar check program into panic mode. For example, ‘Over my shoulder, the gloom thickening, and every sound an animal prowling through the trees’ or ‘Here the beginning of a path, there an open patch of grass, rubble scattered like gravestones’.  When you consider that the book is written in first person from the POV of 16-year old girls, it does make you wonder. While I wasn’t as keen on the use of this approach during quieter moments, it works well in dramatic scenes, helping to emphasise the tension and get across the tendency of the brain to process things very quickly.

Power plays around with style a lot more during Byatt’s segments of the novel – fragmented sentences, run-ons, etc. This in combination with choppy memory flashbacks can make these sections confusing at times but, for the most part, it effectively reflects Byatt’s current state of mind.  

Romance Light

As a book featuring almost an entirely female cast of characters, it’s the perfect set up for a sapphic romance. Wilder Girls starts out well on this front and lays the building blocks for a lovely and complex relationship between Hetty and Reese. Following Byatt’s disappearance, the two start to understand each other and communicate better, they have some sweet and intimate moments, and then…poof. It’s gone. Okay, not gone, but any further development does seem to halt. While I’m not someone who needs massively dramatic romance storylines to be happy, as far as side plots go, for me, this one was underdeveloped.

While Wilder Girls may not have given me the answers I wanted and could have benefited from greater depth to some of its story elements, it was certainly an interesting read and its world building and mysteries kept me engaged until the end. If you’re after something quick, slightly darker in tone, with strong female characters and a more open ending, this should be right up your alley. Added bonus: An absolutely stunning cover to add to the bookshelf.

3.5 Stars

Let’s Talk: The Challenges of Reviewing Diverse YA Books

When I first considered discussing this topic, I wondered whether it would be possible to do so, as a white, straight, cis, able, and mentally healthy woman, without sounding like an insensitive and privileged ass. Then again, the point of book blogging is to discuss opinions on book related topics and if we’re afraid to do that, then why blog in the first place? So, I’m going to give it my best shot. Diversity in YA books and how to appropriately review diverse reads is something I’ve thought about a great deal over the past year or so. While there is still a very long way to go, I honestly believe that in recent years there have been great strides made with regards to putting different ethnicities, cultures, sexualities, mental health conditions, and disabilities at the forefront of YA stories and representing them well. Yet, this progress also presents certain difficulties with regards to reviewing.

When an author takes the time to properly showcase the stories of people in a minority or stigmatised group or, better yet, writes an ‘own voices’ novel representing elements of their own experiences, it’s a pretty amazing thing. These kinds of stories deserve to be told and should be encouraged.

But.

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What happens when a novel wonderfully incorporates diversity, but fails to appeal in terms of plot, characters, setting or writing style? These books pose a significant challenge to reviewers. Critique the book heavily and you risk damaging public opinion/book sales, meaning a publisher may pull back on releasing these kinds of stories in the future. Downplay your doubts to focus on praising the book simply for being diverse, and suddenly you’re not being honest. I’ve found myself in this position numerous times since I began blogging and bookstagramming. I want to be able to read books about, and written by, people with different experiences, characteristics, and obstacles. Without them, fiction would be extremely boring. At the same time, I don’t want to boost an author’s work purely because it’s diverse.

In the past, my approach towards reviewing diverse reads has generally been, where possible, to treat the diversity elements and the quality of that representation separately from other major areas e.g. enjoyment of plot, development of characters, etc. Where the book succeeds on all fronts, reviewing is easy. Problems arise where the diverse components are good, but the book fails to satisfy on the other big elements. Having organic, realistic, and well-handled representation is considered a major positive in deciding my overall rating of a book, but at the same time, it’s only one part of the overall picture. Consequently, even wonderfully diverse reads can still end up with an average or not so great final rating.

Looking at book reviews on star ratings alone, this approach could be considered extremely damaging to efforts to expand YA diversity. For this reason, I believe it is extremely important that, as reviewers, we consistently make an effort to discuss diversity/representation in our reviews (where relevant), and to praise elements of good representation even if the review itself is largely negative. In doing so though, we do have to trust that readers will take the time to look at our reviews beyond just the hard number score. At least this way we ensure we remain honest yet still show support for a growing and diversified YA genre.

A few examples of books which have created this challenge for me over the last few years include:

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  • Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeymi: How often do we see West-African inspired YA fantasy books? Not very often, and aside from some confusion over the magic system, I loved the setting/world building in this book. My final rating was a solid 3.5 stars – not bad, but not the glowing highs of the hype train. In the end, this was due to my issues with irrational character behaviour, stretches of boring plot, and unnecessary/forced romance.
  • Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan: GoP&F is a YA fantasy set in a Malaysian inspired world. It features Asian leads and involves a lesbian romance. On that basis alone it ticks great diversity boxes, and yet, my final rating was 2.5 stars. I liked the premise of this book and so badly wanted to rejoice in something that put strong, Asian, lesbian women at the centre of a story. However, from an enjoyment perspective, I couldn’t get past my issues with the worldbuilding, pacing, and inability to connect with the characters.
  • Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde: QoG is a sweet and fluffy YA contemporary. It features a bisexual lead, a plus-sized lead with Asperger’s and anxiety, and a bunch of side characters who are racially diverse and suffer from disabilities. This is a book that screams diversity. Yet, there’s also minimal plot and very simplistic writing, which rendered it only a 3-star read for me.
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Being unable to give these kinds of books glowing reviews is extremely difficult because I genuinely want authors and stories like these to succeed. In many cases, this pressure has even discouraged me from wanting to write a review altogether, especially where the diverse elements are inextricably linked to the major components of the story e.g. American Panda by Gloria Chao. Stories like these make me wonder whether, as someone who does not write reviews for every book they read, I should perhaps direct my attention to reviewing only those diverse reads that I genuinely really enjoy. Then again, an approach like this seems to involve its own problems and depending on what I choose to read could result in reviews of little to no diverse books on my blog.

On the flip side of this is the equally challenging situation of how to a review a book which does well on the enjoyment scale yet fails when it comes to realistic and good quality representation. Are we allowed to like and praise a book even though it handles the treatment of certain groups and experiences badly? While I may have said that good representation is not the ultimate determiner of a review rating, for most reviewers the reverse does not seem to hold true. Fail in your attempts at good representation and half the book reviewing community will roast you alive while the other half grab marshmallows. It’s situations like this in which I’m likely to avoid writing a review and to spend agonising time selecting a star rating on Goodreads. However, in saying this, my biggest worry is not that I’ll like a book that does certain groups a disservice, but that I’ll review it positively without even knowing or picking up on just how bad the representation is.

Despite my ability to sympathise with fictional characters, I do not have detailed knowledge of what life is like for every group out there. I have never experienced depression, I am not from an immigrant family, no one I know has experienced police profiling or brutality, and I have never had to deal with sexuality-based stigma. There are a multitude of things that I have no way of knowing anything about until I (a) meet someone who has first-hand knowledge of these things or (b) I read about them. Being able to pick out the realistic from the skewed is a challenge with diverse reads and makes it difficult as a reviewer to ensure we’re writing an informed review. This then begs the question, am I even qualified to write these kinds of reviews?

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Earlier this week I finished reading All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This is a book that deals with suicide, depression, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, bipolar disorder, and bullying. At several points during the novel I found myself questioning the realism of how some of these issues were represented. And as usual, when in doubt, I went to Goodreads. Scrolling through the book’s page, I found that there are some people who relate heavily to MC Finch and his experiences with mental health while others who have also experienced depression and attempted suicide take great issue with how these are depicted. This leaves me with more questions than ever – if even those with first-hand experience cannot decide if the representation is good or bad, how in the world am I to know? The only solution I can see to this is to do my own research and determine whether what I’ve read represents the experiences and reality for at least a small component of the chosen represented group, even if it may not represent the majority.

At this point, I’m not entirely sure what the correct way forward is. Perhaps it’s more of a case by case type of issue. In the end, I suppose all we can do is review the books in front of us as honestly and constructively as we can with a sense of self-awareness. We also need to continue to demand better representation of minorities in the things we read and hope that writers continue to put these stories out there and that publishers will help them reach us.

Let’s Talk: What are your thoughts on the difficulties associated with reviewing diverse books? Do you have any similar experiences and if so, how do you deal with them?

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

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

Who, What, Where?

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

I’m Happy, I’m Sad, I’m a Mess

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

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

Can I Join the De Lainey Family?

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

Loose Ends

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

Writing Style

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

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

Autistic Representation

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

You, Me, We

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

Other Thoughts:

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

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

4.5 STARS

Claim the Stars: ‘Skyward’ by Brandon Sanderson

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

Who, What, Where?

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

Blood of My Enemies

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

Call Sign: Spin

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

Skyward Flight

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

Lay Low & Catalogue Mushrooms

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

Other Points

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

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

5 Stars

March ’19 Releases to Get Excited About

In the past, I’ve been doing these posts as a sort of 3 at a time, multiple posts a month kind of thing, complete with lengthy blurbs for each book. I’ve decided to make things easier and just pop a whole bunch of new releases for the month into one big post. I’ll try to summarise the plot for each book into short snippets that’ll hopefully help you decide if you’re interested in finding out more. All books are linked to their respective Goodreads pages to make things even easier. While a large chunk of these are YA, not all of them are and I’ve incorporated a few books from adult genres for those who like to read more broadly.


5th March

  • The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2) – Dhonielle Clayton: Camille and her allies race to find Princess Charlotte and fight to restore peace to Orleans.
  • The Quiet You Carry – Nikki Barthelmess: After a mysterious incident with her father, Victoria is placed into foster care and forced to adjust to her new surroundings.
  • Superman: Dawnbreaker (DC Icons 4#) – Matt de la Pena: A young Clarke Kent teams up with bestie Lana Lane to solve a Smallville mystery whilst learning more about his powers and origins.
  • To Best the Boys – Mary Weber: Disguised as a boy, a teen scientist enters a dangerous scholarship contest to win entry to an illustrious men’s university in order to research a cure to the disease killing her mother.
  • Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid: Told as a compilation of interviews, DJ&TS details the rise and eventual break up of a legendary (fictional) band during the 60s and 70s.

March 5th Continues…(Gosh!)

  • The Last 8 – Laura Pohl: Eight teenagers learn to survive on Earth after an alien attack decimates the human population.
  • Lovely War – Julie Berry: In a hotel room during WWII, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, tells a story to her husband, Hephaestus, and lover, Ares, of four young people who met and fell in love during WWI.
  • Call Me Evie – J.P. Pomare: Kate wakes up in an isolated cabin. A man named Bill claims she’s there for her protection, that she did something unspeakable. Kate’s memory of her life before is sketchy and Bill’s story doesn’t add up. But does she really want to remember?
  • Bloodleaf – Crystal Smith:  Aurelia is destined to marry the prince of an enemy country. After an assassination attempt, she uses forbidden magic to save a life. Attacked by witch hunters, she trades places with her lady in waiting, Lisette. Now forced to survive without money or status, Aurelia is in a race to make it to Achelva before Lisette marries the prince instead.
  • Opposite of Always – Justin A. Reynolds: Jack is a pro at ‘almost’ getting things – valedictorian, varsity – but when he meets Kate, he feels as though his curse might finally be over. Until she dies. Now, with help of some time travel, Jack may have the chance to prevent her death. But is it worth it if it means hurting someone else he loves?

19th March

  • Sherwood – Megan Spooner: After the death of Robin Hood, Maid Marion takes up his legendary bow and hood to fight for the people of Locksley against the terrible Sheriff of Nottingham.
  • Small Town Hearts – Lillie Vale: In a small, beachside town, Babe, is forced to deal with the falling out of her two best friends, re-appearance of her ex-girlfriend, and growing feelings for the cute artist she knows will leave town when the summer’s over.
  • The Weight of the Stars – K. Ancrum: Two girls are brought together after a terrible accident. They bond over listening to radio waves on a roof in the hopes of hearing something from one of the pair’s mother, an astronaut on a one way trip to the edge of the solar system.
  • Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young: The Innovations Academy is designed to turn young ladies into perfectly obedient women. However, when Mena and her friends start to question the nature of their existence, they realise the school holds some very dark secrets.
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams: Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London, constantly trying to straddle two cultures. After a messy break up with her long term boyfriend, she starts on a downward spiral before undergoing a journey of self-discovery and beginning to question who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life.

26th March

  • Once & Future – Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy: Comedy and Sci-fi combine in this King Arthur retelling featuring a teen Merlin who’s been aging backwards, a cruel oppressive government, and the 42nd reincarnation of Arthur, Ari, who crashes on new Earth while on the run from a mega-corporation.
  • In Another Life – C. C. Hunter: When Chloe moves to a new town with her mother, she meets Cash, a boy who informs her that she looks just like the child his foster parents lost years ago. As the two dig into Chloe’s adoption, the more strange things start to occur and others just don’t add up.
  • Killing November – Adriana Mather: New student, November Adly sets out to find the culprit behind a series of murders at a school designed to train students to be assassins, counsellors, spies, and impersonators.

Hopefully there’s at least one book on this list that caught your eye, I know there’s definitely a few on my radar. While I’ve tried to cover a chunk of reads that come out in March, I know there are STACKS I’m missing. I’d be here til the end of time if I tried to cover them all. If there’s a book you think I should add, just let me know. It’s always good to share the excitement with others.

What March ’19 release are you most excited about?

Let’s Steal a Magical Artefact: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves was one of my big anticipated releases for 2019. ASix of Crows-esque squad pulling a heist in post-revolution France with some magic thrown in? How could I possibly resist?

Complex World Building

I don’t know if I’m not paying enough attention, just obtuse, or it’s the book itself, but either way, I was massively lost on a lot of the world building elements of TGW because there’s just so much to process.

There was once the Tower of Babylon which God broke up into a bunch of smaller pieces. These fragments were then hidden in different parts of the world. Through their presence, some members of the population developed special abilities. Known as ‘Forging’, these abilities are either physical or mental and involve altering objects in unique ways (forged objects). Forging affinities are also highly specific e.g. manipulating stone.

To protect the fragments, the Order of Babel was created and is made up of powerful houses spread across the globe (there were once 4 French ones each led by a patriarch or matriarch, now only two remain). The members of the order are responsible for moving the Babylon fragments every few years and ensuring the location isn’t discovered. This is to avoid someone attempting to misuse, destroy or reunite them. 

Still following? Because I haven’t even mentioned anything about:

  • The special rings the house heads wear
  • The forged objects designed to locate Babylon fragments
  • OR the branches of forging that somehow allow you to transfer souls (…what?)

In one word, it’s overwhelming. As the book went on, despite the author’s attempts to explain, I just found myself getting more confused, especially during the climax. The frustrating thing is that I’m so impressed by the amount of work and creativity that’s gone into crafting this world and I feel as though it has so much potential for awesomeness, but at this point, I AM CONFUZZLED. SEND HELP.

It’s Heist Time

The plot of TGW revolves around a heist. It’s Paris, 1889 and Severin Montagnet-Alarie is the denied heir to one of France’s two now-extinct houses of the Order of Babel. When he and his associates come across something that may lead them to an object Severin believes could force the Order to give him his rightful place as patriarch and resurrect his house, he jumps at the idea. That is, until he finds out the object is locked inside the protected vaults of House Korre. Deciding to let it go, plans change when he’s soon forced into a magically sealed deal by the head of House Nyx, the charismatic Hypnos –  deliver him the object and he’ll give Severin exactly what he’s always wanted.

The plot of TGW is intricately linked with its world building and because of that, I had trouble understanding (or even just avoiding zoning out during) some of the technical parts of the story. However, because the pacing is so spot on and the narrative has such a great balance between action-packed/tense scenes and quieter character moments, it actually managed to distract me from this fact on numerous occasions.

Me: I have no idea why Zofia & Enrique broke into this museum but OH MY GOD, THAT DUDE JUST THREW A BLADED HAT!

As you’d expect, there’s also some romantic drama which I quite enjoyed because we got both the cute, awkward flirting pairing and the intense I-love-you-but-we-can’t-be-together pairing.

The End

I have to give Chokshi points for her ending. I was on the fence about reading the sequel for ages and then…we got to the last few chapters where she dumps a whole bunch of teasers for future character drama and THEN wham, hits us with a solid twist in the last line. *sigh* I think she may have got me.

Diversity & Commentary

This book has such an ethnically diverse cast of characters and it makes me ridiculously happy. We have Algerian-French, Indian, Filipino-Spanish, Polish, Haitian-French and…Tristan.

Through the use of her cast and setting, Chokshi also makes some great commentary on some of the darker issues associated with France during this period in history such as:

  • Cultural appropriation and exploitation – Laia is pushed to perform a traditional Indian dance for mere entertainment
  • Racism & Discrimination – Severin is denied his place as head of House Vanth because the Order refused to have two mixed-race patriarchs, Zofia is harassed for being Jewish
  • Slavery & Human Trafficking – the existence of human zoos
  • Colonialisation – The occupation of the Philipines by the Spanish & Enrique being of mixed race is considered part of neither population.

A Loveable Family

My favourite part of TGW, hands down, was the characters. Severin’s team of quirky, adorable and brilliant associates are all likeable and distinct. They also interact with one another in ways that feel real, familiar and humorous.

Severin: Owner of the L’Eden Hotel , Severin is calculating, good at recognising the talents of others and using them to his advantage, and generally tries to hide his emotions behind a calm exterior. However, deep down, he thinks of his team much like a family and would protect any one of them at all costs.      

Laia: Exotic dancer & hotel baker. Laia is wonderfully confident, cool-headed, mysterious and always trying to feed everyone. She has the unique ability to read the history of objects by touching them and can go toe to toe with Severin.

Enrique: The team historian and a massive nerd for all things scholarly. He’s bisexual and possesses that cocky bravado thing which pretty much assures I will fall in love with you. Also, will turn up to parties to get first dibs on chocolate covered strawberries.

Zofia: A Jewish, Polish engineer with autism who’s great with numbers, patterns, and chemicals. Zofia’s not so good with people or humour and tends to count things when she’s nervous. She has a love of sugar cookies and is basically an awkward, little cinnamon roll. 

Tristan: A botanist with forging abilities centred around plants. Tristan is like a little brother to Severin and he’s pretty much an overexcited puppy who spends most of his time in the greenhouse working on his inventions with his pet tarantula, Goliath. 

Hypnos: Charming, ostentatious, and flirts with anything that moves. Hypnos is smarter than he seems, adept at getting what he wants and swears by using alcohol as a thinking asset. If there’s one thing he needs, it’s friends. He opened his mouth, and I fell in love.

The Gilded Wolves showcases solid writing, good momentum, and diverse, interesting characters. However, due to the overly complicated nature of the world building and it’s inextricable links to the plot, I found myself unable to enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. Still, with an intriguing ending, the chances of me reading the sequel remain high.

3.5 stars 

Doin’ it for the Girls: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber (ARC)

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Who, What, Where?

To Best the Boys is set in the province of Caldon in which every year an epic competition hosted by the mysterious Mr Holm is held for eligible aged boys to compete for the chance to win a scholarship to the prestigious Stemwick University. Only one can win, and the competition is not for the faint of heart as contestants have died in previous years.

Our lead is Rhen Teller, a sixteen-year-old girl with a talent for biological science. Alongside her father, Rhen has desperately been trying to devise a cure for the deadly disease spreading through the lower classes and slowly killing her mother. Rhen concludes that in order to gain access to the resources and technology she needs to do her research, her best option is to attend university by winning the scholarship. The only problem? It’s an all-male institution. And so, along with her cousin Seleni, Rhen devises a plan to disguise herself as a boy to not only take home the prize but show the boys what an intelligent young woman can do.

Why You Should Read this Book:

A Solid Lead

From as early as the dedication, To Best the Boys sets itself up to be a female empowering story and if there’s one thing you need for a book like this, it’s a strong central character. Rhen was one of my favourite components of the book. She’s certainly strong, but also smart, hardworking, quick thinking, confident in her abilities (despite others’ attempts to discount her), and a little bit sassy.

“Miss Lake, I’d heard your cousin would be a fun one, but I’d no idea how pleasurable. You must bring her around, more often. I think I’d enjoy getting to know more of her…spirit.”

…I lower my voice and flick my gaze down his body. “Mr Germaine, I assure you – were you given the opportunity to know more of my spirit, I believe I’d find the whole experience wholly unsatisfying.”

Whilst possessing these bolder traits, Rhen does have a gentler side, too. She’s kind, empathetic, and extremely passionate about using her skills to try and help others in her community. The fact that she isn’t squeamish and starts the novel off at the morgue rooting around a dead body additionally makes for a great first impression.

Feminist Themes

I can never resist a good YA with feminist undertones and To Best the Boys does well on this front. The world itself is designed around forcing women into very traditional mother/wife roles with very little activities beyond things such as sewing and baking. By having intelligent female leads actively pursuing what they want in such a setting, the theme of female empowerment shines through very clearly and as a young woman, it’s hard not to feel great reading it.

“You win this thing, Rhen Teller. Enough to make Vincent and Germaine regret they weren’t born women”.

I really enjoyed the fact that despite the more historical kind of setting, Weber still manages to make quite a few comments on equality issues that apply even in today’s society, and in doing so she really emphasises just how stupid they are. For example, girls as distractions for boys in educational settings. The other thing that I massively appreciated was Weber’s attitude towards equality and feminism. It’s about women having the freedom and opportunities to choose what to do with their future, even if, like Seleni, their choice is to be a wife and mother. You do you, Seleni!

Cute Romance

“If I go, you go with me.”

“I’ve already won,” he whispers.

Can I once again just say, thank god for authors who know how to write romances that don’t take over the rest of the story. The romance in this book is a nice, little subplot. It pops up now and again and the exchanges between fisherman, Lute, and Rhen are pretty sweet, even if Rhen spends a lot of time commenting on Lute’s luscious lips. Girl, we’ve all been there. However, the best part of this relationship, very much fitting with the overall gist of the book, is that Lute is completely supportive of Rhen being her intelligent, beat all the rest, best self and has absolutely no issues being with a woman who is smarter and more successful than he is. Basically, I am totally here for it.

Diversity

I have to give points to Weber for trying to include some aspects of diversity in terms of learning disabilities into the novel. They’re not extremely prominent but they’re there. Rhen, herself, is dyslexic and it was great to see a heroine showcase the fact that having a learning difficulty does not make you stupid or mean it’s impossible for you to excel academically and in life. It may require additional time and effort, but you can get there.

Why You Might Want to Skip It:

Unmemorable & Lacking World Building

One of the things that I often find gets choppy in fantasy standalones is the world building and, unfortunately, it’s also the case with this book. When the novel starts out, the setting is reminiscent of a seaside town in historical England. We’re given a couple of geographical details and some facts about gender roles, the class divide and the fact that fishing is a big industry, but otherwise, it all feels a little bland and also entirely non-magical. That is, until suddenly *poof*, we find out the world has magical creatures – ghouls, sirens, basilisks, oh my. I love magical creatures, don’t get me wrong, but the problem I had with their use here is that they don’t feel properly integrated into the rest of the world. Aside from some elements of the competition, for the most part, they seem like the only magical element in it. As a result, I just ended up largely disinterested in the setting and, at times, a little mystified.

Rushed Competition

I feel as though my expectations may partially be to blame for this one, but it is what it is. When I went into this, I expected that, after some time setting the scene and introducing the characters, the majority of the story would take place in the labyrinth. To my surprise, the book builds up to it only for the actual competition to consist of probably only a bit over a third of the story. Although the novel is around 350 pages long, as I was reading through, I couldn’t help feeling like the tasks were rushed and some lacking in excitement. While I’m aware this isn’t The Hunger Games, I expected slightly more.

WTF Ending

The final challenge is certainly not lacking in drama (even though that drama is not of Mr Holm’s making). Yet, even after having flicked back and re-read through this scene, colour me confused. Everything happens very quickly and although I’m aware of the outcome, how in the world did we end up there and why was it allowed? What was even the point of the entire last challenge if someone could “win” this way. Trying to avoid spoilers here is extremely difficult but I feel as though the way the competition ends isn’t consistent with the idea of besting the boys. While I was on board with the result and everything that followed was great, it always felt somehow…tainted by how it was gained.

To Best the Boys is a reasonably entertaining read with some strong female empowerment themes and a likeable lead. However, due to its plot flaws and lack of a distinctive world, unfortunately, for me, it’s unlikely to be highly memorable or encourage a re-read.

3 Stars