Review: Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

Goodbye, Perfect
Goodbye, Perfect
by Sara Barnard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodbye Perfect has some wonderful character development and depth but while Barnard handles a difficult topic with real skill I’m afraid the storyline just wasn’t for me.


THE BLURB

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I? 

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.


MY REVIEW

Hmm As a huge fan of Barnard I really wanted to love this book but for some reason it just didn’t happen for me. It may just have been that the story, about a girl whose 15 year old best friend runs off with her music teacher, made me uncomfortable or it may just have been that I was in the wrong frame of mind when reading it but I just didn’t connect with it the way I have with the authors other books.

It is very well written as you would expect from Barnard and even though I didn’t love the story I did find it very readable and flew through the whole thing in a couple of days.

There were elements about it I absolutely loved, the relationship between main character Eden and her adoptive family (the fact that the main character was adopted), inclusion of a teenager who is a carer for his mother, the way it looks at how people are judged based on their background. All wonderfully done and so great to see in YA fiction.

I am not sure I necessarily connected with Eden but she was very different from what I expected and from what you usually find in these type of stories. She’s not had the easiest of lives, is argumentative and immature in some ways but her attitude and goals are very grown up in a lot of ways. She’s just full of contradictions, which I thought was wonderful, and she’s not the only one. Almost every character has layers and depth, something I loved, and I really liked how both they and the relationships between them developed through the story.

The pacing is maybe a little on the slow side and I did find myself getting frustrated with it, particularly in the start. I felt like a lot could have been resolved much faster and much easier and far too much time was spent with Eden going back and forward trying to decide whether to tell everyone what she knows. With my general uneasiness around the teacher student relationship I just wanted it to be resolved and for the story to move elsewhere.

I think these are me issues however rather than any kind of problem with the book and based on the other reviews I can see that a lot of people have really loved it. It is definitely a worthwhile read even if just to get some discussion around the issues it raises.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

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ARC Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow this book was good. So dark and creepy and just wonderfully well written. I found myself becoming lost in the story which considering how tired and stressed I was while reading it was pretty impressive.


THE BLURB

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. 

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .


MY REVIEW

I have to admit that while I initially had high hopes for this book, I did see some negative reviews that put a little bit of doubt in my mind. Thankfully though this book was right up my street. I am a huge fan of retellings and all things fairy tale and this, while not really being a retelling, certainly has the feel of one albeit a very dark and creepy one.

This is a story about stories where the lines between the real and the imagined become decidedly blurred. It’s a little confusing and frustrating at times and occasionally nonsensical but there’s so much mystery and so many twists that it’s difficult to put down. The world the author builds is incredible and draws you in so completely that it feels real. It’s dark and disturbing pretty much all of the time and I found myself getting genuine chill in places.

I’m not going to say much about the story as I think you really need to read it for yourself but essentially it’s a voyage of discovery for Alice as she tries to find her mother after she suddenly disappears. She uncovers a link to her recently deceased grandmother’s collection of dark fairy tales and has to find her way first to her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood and then to the place that inspired her stories. She’s pretty much on her own with no other family and no money or resources so has to rely on a boy from school to help her but he seems a little too excited about going to the Hazel Wood.

The story is told entirely from Alice’s point of view and she is very much the focus of this story. There are other characters but they generally appear briefly, play their part and then move on. I’m not sure I would necessarily say I liked Alice but I’m not sure you’re supposed to. She’s cold, sharp and angry and not very nice but I did admire her determination and liked how the author developed her over the course of the story.

It was though, the other characters who left more of an impression on me despite only their relatively brief appearances in the story. They tended to the eccentric, with erratic sometimes violent behavior and talking in riddles (this is where it goes a little Alice in Wonderland). It’s rarely clear whether they are there to help Alice, are playing with her or using her for their own ends. I can understand some may find them frustrating and annoying but I just loved the mystery around it and found myself wanting more of them. There were a couple of characters in particular who I really wish we’d gotten to understand more about but if I’d gotten everything I wanted the book would probably be twice as long.

The one problem I will say I found with the characters however is that I thought the relationships between them were a little lacking. There just isn’t enough time spent fully developing them and consequently I didn’t feel their connection to each other. The relationship between Alice and her mother for example is key to the story, the whole plot is Alice trying to find her, but because her mother only appears briefly I didn’t feel any closeness. We have to rely on Alice’s assertions of how much her mother means to her which for me is not the same as showing it. Similarly the relationship between Alice and the boy who’s helping her just felt a little odd and uncomfortable. That may be intentional but even by the end there was something incomplete about it.

That being said though I did love the story. It drew me in completely, so much so that I almost missed my stop on the train. I especially loved the dark fairy tales that are told as part of the story and would really love it if the author wrote the whole complete collection at some point. Almost every story is left unfinished or interrupted and they were just so creepy and dark that I want to know how they end.

Overall, despite a few niggles over the relationships I have to say I really loved this story. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and fairy tales with a dark twist.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

The Hazel Wood is due to be published on 30th January in the US and 8th February in the UK.

Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
They Both Die at the End
by Adam Silvera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unsurprisingly this was an emotional read but what impressed me the most was the incredible detail that went into the world building. I loved how this made me think and how when I finished I wanted to rush out and live my life. Absolutely brilliant.


THE BLURB

When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression.

Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.

Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love…

Another beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming book from the brilliant Adam Silvera, author of More Happy Than Not and History Is All You Left Me.


MY REVIEW

Do you know what, I’m not sure that title was wise. This is an absolutely brilliant book but honestly I spent pretty much the whole time afraid to get too attached to Mateo or Rufus just in case they did in fact both die at the end. I kept hoping it wouldn’t happen, that they would be the exception, there was a mix up with the names and they received the call in error or that just by finding each other they’d save each other but just in case I kept myself that little bit detached. Consequently I think it lost that emotional punch I was expecting. It is still packed full of feels and some very touching moments but I was ready for out and out devastation.

It is an incredibly well written story and I really loved both Mateo and Rufus. Both are a little bit lost in the beginning but it was so wonderful to watch them develop over the course of the story. Mateo was probably the more relatable of the two, anxious and afraid to live (or leave his bedroom) in case he does something that results in the dreaded death cast call informing him he has less than 24 hours to live, I could see elements of myself in him. Wanting to go on adventures and be brave but just too scared and needing that little push. He was also just the nicest and sweetest guy. I really wanted him getting the call to be a mistake. Rufus took a little longer to warm up to, he’s beating someone up at the story, but you can’t help but grow to love him when he helps Mateo so much and starts becoming more like him.

The relationship between them is just so sweet and funny and wow. They begin the day as complete strangers and opposites but somehow they compliment and bring out the best in each other. Rufus encourages Mateo to be brave and break out and Mateo makes Rufus kinder and better…. oh god I’m gonna cry.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I just loved their story but what made this even better was the little glimpses into the lives of others who cross their paths. The chapters more or less alternate between Mateo and Rufus’s povs but there are these other chapters thrown in from the pov of their friends, the people who make the calls to inform people they’re going to die that day, and others who have either received their call or just bump into Rufus or Mateo in some way. These gave such an insight into the world and raised so many questions I found it fascinating.

Actually the whole world just fascinated me. What would it be like to live in a world where everyone finds out between midnight and 3am whether they’re going to die that day? What would you do if you found out it was your day to die? Would you deny it, try to fight it? Would you accept it and try to make your last hours count? Take control and decide for yourself how you’re going to die? Or what if you don’t get the call? Does that mean you can’t die no matter what you do that day? Would you take more risks? It really makes you wonder about fate, self fulfilling prophecies and whether you have any control over your destiny.

The world the author creates and the way he presents all of these issues and questions was just brilliant. Such clever writing to create a world that’s so similar but so different in terms of attitudes to life and death. I think this is a story I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Overall an absolutely brilliant but emotional read.

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

Everless
Everless
by Sara Holland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original, addictive and frustrating as hell. This is one of those books where I just wanted to give the main character a good shake but couldn’t put it down.


THE BLURB

Time is a prison. She is the key. Packed with danger, temptation and desire – a perfect read for fans of The Red Queen. 

In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything – even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.

Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.

There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever … and possibly the future of time itself.


MY REVIEW

There seems to be a lot of buzz about this book and I have to admit I was a little bit skeptical going in. Is there anything truly original left to do in YA fantasy? But actually, Holland does somehow manage it. Yes there are a lot of the familiar tropes but the central concept, that in this land time is used as a currency, is absolutely brilliant. Add to that some wonderful writing and world building and this is a book that’s definitely worth reading.

There is something instantly likeable about the authors writing style and the whole story feels very much like a fairytale, from the dark and dangerous woods, the poor peasant girl with the sickly father, powerful royals and secrets from the past. In the beginning it reminded me a little of beauty and the beast as Jules takes on her fathers debt in order to save him, venturing to the palace they ran from when she was a child to work as a servant. In Everless she finds cruelty, greed and excess but she also finds friends, old and new, and begins to uncover the secrets from her past.

The story is a little predictable, I saw pretty much everything coming, but while it’s frustrating watching Jules do ridiculously stupid things and trusting the wrong people it does make for some addictive reading. I was literally shouting at the pages but I couldn’t stop turning them.

Jules as you can probably tell drove me crazy. She is kind and brave but she’s a little too naive and trusting and I’m not sure that really changes over the course of the story. The other characters are a bit more complex and many are not as they first appear, although again the author scatters enough hints that nothing is wholly unexpected.

The pacing of the story is pretty much spot on and the author creates a very believable and engaging world. There are a few areas I think the author could have developed further, maybe that will come in subsequent books, but there are moments that are absolutely wonderful, shocking, touching, tragic or jaw dropping.

There is plenty of action and intrigue, a few twists and a little bit of romance to carry the story along to a pretty epic conclusion, although with this being the first in a series there are of course a few unanswered questions and a bit of a cliffhanger. This is the authors debut novel so it’s not perfect but it definitely shows a lot of promise and I will certainly be looking out for more.

Overall a great start to the series with a very unique premise and some wonderful writing. I’d recommend you give this series a try if you love YA fantasy and are looking for something a little different.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)
The Cruel Prince
by Holly Black

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Dark, twisted and brutally violent at times, I absolutely loved this book. Black truly creates a wonderfully vivid world that you can quite happily lose yourself in.


THE BLURB

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.


MY REVIEW

Holly Black truly is the Queen of the Fae.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a story featuring Fae and I’m so glad I waited for this one. It’s deliciously dark and twisted and so, so good. The writing is wonderful, Black creates a fantastically vivid world and a story that gripped me from the very start.

Main character Jude is incredible and I loved how she developed over the course of the story. The other characters are similarly unexpected and complicated and the relationships between them are just as unpredictable. As the majority of characters are fae, there are a lot of tricksters, some charming and some vicious, nasty and horrible. Very few are who they seem and many turn out to be completely different than you thought.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, some I saw coming and others that took me completely by surprise. Almost everyone seems to be scheming and plotting to maneuver themselves into a position of power or at the very least safety. It’s a dangerous and violent world, think Game of Thrones, where there are sudden bursts of brutal and bloody violence as the various factions try to take out their enemies.

As humans in a powerful fae family, twins Jude and Taryn are particularly vulnerable. They have no power and spend most of their time afraid and on the defensive, at the mercy of whoever decides to risk the wrath of their guardian Madoc. It fascinated me how both sisters were in the same position but took such different approaches, Jude looks for her own power while Taryn seeks protection. It makes for an interesting dynamic between them and quite a bit of conflict. I could understand Taryn’s attempts to go unnoticed and smooth the waters but I loved Jude’s determination and fire. The moment where she pretty much goes f*ck it and starts playing the game had me cheering.

There is some romance in this, those fae can be very tempting, but it is fairly light and like a lot of the story not necessarily what it seems. The focus is much more on family relationships, friendship, loyalty and trust. Basically all of the good things and I loved it.

Overall this is a brilliant story, so dark and twisty with a lot of violence. It’s one I’d recommend to all YA fantasy readers and I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L Armentrout

If There's No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very emotional and occasionally heartbreaking read. The story may not be the most original but it’s very well written. I found it difficult to put down and devoured the whole thing in one sitting.


THE BLURB

Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She’s ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances.

Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything.

Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened.

For what she let happen.

With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when her and her friends’ entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed?


MY REVIEW

Phew, that was emotional. I can’t remember the last time I cried so much reading a book, it should really come with a warning or at least a free box of tissues.

I started this early(ish) on Sunday morning planning just to read a few chapters before I got up and got on with my day but once I started I literally couldn’t put it down and demolished the whole thing in one go, bawling my eyes out for probably half of it.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the plot but it’s a not unfamiliar story in YA contemporary. It’s about how you live with the consequences and the guilt of one wrong decision, one mistake that changes your life and the lives of those around you forever. Main character Lena Wise has her whole life in front of her but that all changes at a party when she doesn’t listen to her instincts and makes that one mistake that I’m sure many others have and probably will.

I really liked Lena for the majority of this book. She has a lot to deal with and doesn’t always act the way she should but I could definitely relate to her and a lot of her actions are very understandable. I could very easily imagine myself acting in the same way even though hopefully I’ll never find out. The highlight of the story for me was however boy next door Sebastian. I’m not sure he’s wholly believable as a teenage boy (he’s just too good to be true) but he’s just sooo sweet and funny and lovely I could definitely understand why Lena had a major crush.

There is a little bit of romance but it too is very sweet and not at all heavy. I absolutely adored Lena and Seb together before everything changed for them and even afterwards I loved how he tried to stick by her despite her pushing him away.

This story does deal with some very heavy issues but it does it in a very responsible way. There are the proper consequences and it gives the right messages without ever really becoming too preachy.

There is definitely a lot of good in this book, there were however a few things that forced me to knock a star off my rating. Firstly, it’s just not original enough. The writing is great and the storyline really got to me but I’ve read it before, more than once. I do think it has messages that are worth repeating but I would have really liked something to make it stand out from the rest.

Secondly, I didn’t 100% buy into the friendship between Lena, Megan, Abbi and Darynda. I’m not sure why but there was something about it that just didn’t feel true to me. Possibly it was just that it was more tell than show. And lastly, the plugging of books written by the authors friends just really irritated me. If the main character is a big reader she would get through more books than just the ones by those two authors.

These are fairly minor niggles and despite them I did find myself completely immersed in the story. If you like YA contemporaries I think you’ll enjoy it. Just don’t expect it to be too original, and make sure you have a lot of tissues.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

ARC Review – Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades (Renegades, #1)
Renegades
by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brilliant beginning to a new series from Marissa Meyer. It’s packed full of all the best super hero cliches making it a really fun read but the real highlight is the wonderful writing and twists and turns which make you question just who’s the superhero and who’s the villain. I can’t wait for book 2.


THE BLURB

Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.


MY REVIEW

I’m a huge big fan of Marissa Meyer’s and a huge big fan of all things super hero so this should have been a match made in heaven for me and for the most part it was.

The writing is as always wonderful and Meyer certainly knows how to create brilliant and complex characters who are kind of morally grey but it was maybe that little bit too long and had a bit too much going on for me to love it.

The story itself felt very X-Men, two groups of people with super powers (the Renegades and the Anarchists) who have very different ideas about what’s best for society and end up at odds. Nova (or Nightmare to use her super villain name) has been raised by the Anarchists following the death of her family at the hands of a gang. She feels the Renegades let her down and is determined to bring them down at any cost.

Adrian (aka Sketch) is a Renegade and, while he’s not wholly on board with the way some of the Renegade teams operate, he believes in the cause and wants to protect all of those who need it. His mother was one of the original members of the Renegades and after she died in mysterious circumstances he’s been determined to find out what happened to her.

When an attack by the Arnarchists on the Renegades goes wrong Nova decides her best chance to defeat them is to become one, going undercover to destroy them from the inside. Adrian however is obsessed with tracking down Nightmare as she seems to hold the clue to just what happens to his mother. Like Nova though, he also has a secret identity to protect.

I absolutely loved how twisty this story is. Pretty much every one seems to have some kind of secret so there’s a lot of mystery and reveals. The whole secret identity thing is just so wonderfully superhero-y. Although, like Superman, I found myself wondering just how no one could spot it was the same person with a change of clothes/mask/pair of glasses.

There are in fact a lot of the best cliches from the super hero movies, tragic backstory, discovery of powers, changing allegiances, double crosses, ya know all that good stuff. It may not be wholly original but it’s fantastically good fun. What I loved most however is how Meyer manages to take something that should be black and white and make it grey. As the story progresses it become increasingly difficult to work out just which side are the baddies and which are the goodies and I think I ended up with more sympathy for the villains than the heroes.

I really, really liked both Nova and Adrian as characters. Nova is a wonderfully strong character. She begins with some very strong convictions but finds herself questioning them. She does come across as a little naive (especially considering she’s part of the Anarchists) but I can let that go. Adrian is just very sweet and awkward and extremely gallant. He just wants to save everyone.

I absolutely adored the relationship between them. It’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet although Adrian is completely clueless that Nova’s there to destroy his family and she’s completely clueless about his secret identity too. It’s frustrating as hell (why don’t they know) but it’s also totally addictive reading.

The other characters are very well done and many of them surprised me. One in particular I was completely shocked to find myself feeling sorry for but it’s just a mark of how good the authors writing is that I was almost in tears when this horrible character got their comeuppance.

If I had one big gripe about the story it’s that there is possibly too much to keep track of. There are a lot of characters and I have to admit I struggled throughout to keep them straight in my head. Each one has a real name, a superhero name and a super power and it was all just too much for my feeble memory. I kind of hope there’s some kind of character list with all of this information, their relationships to each other and affiliations in the physical book and with a bit of luck in the next book too as I’m never going to remember.

I also think it was maybe a little bit on the long side. There were a few moments in the first half of the book which were on the slow side to allow for all of the world building and scene setting. I can completely understand why it was needed and by the second half I couldn’t put it down but I do wonder if it could have been done differently.

All that being said though I do think this was a brilliant start to the series. Towards the end I was finding it incredibly difficult to put down and ended up staying up till 1am wanting to know how it was going to end and it was totally worth it. That ending was wow and now I don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next book, I need it now.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.