Mini Book Reviews: Save the Date, Ready Player One & The Silent Patient

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

It’s no secret that I adore Morgan Matson’s books. I’ll add them instantly to my TBR before I even know what they’re about. In Save the Date, Charlie’s sister Linnie is getting married at their family home – and the house is filled with all four of the Grant siblings. Well, almost. Save the Date doesn’t just focus on the protagonist, 17-year-old Charlie. The spotlight is on the entire Grant family and we get to know them all ready well. As someone who has a small family and no siblings, I enjoyed the family drama (with brother Mike in particular), all the wedding havoc (complete with an adorable rogue puppy), and the relationship between siblings, in particular JJ, who is the joker of the family and is hilarious. The Grant family are picture perfect and the basis for the comic strip created by Charlie’s mum that has made the family famous across America.

But Charlie discovers that not everything about her family can be perfect. From conflicts that the press aren’t aware of to the pressure of being the youngest in the family, Charlie’s feeling the tension build. As with most contemporary YA novels, there is a romance, but it isn’t at the centre of the story. Will is the step-in wedding planner who aims to help Charlie save her sister’s wedding, and he’s completely lovely.

If you loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, you’ll probably love Morgan Matson, too.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Set in the 2040s, Halliday is the creator of the Oasis, a vast virtual society that provides everything that the real world cannot. Upon his death, he creates a video announcing that he’s hidden an Easter egg in the Oasis. Whoever finds it first wins his immense fortune – and complete control over the Oasis. And so the fun begins when 18-year-old Wade becomes the first person to discover the first key.

Ready Player One is fun, fast-paced and filled with 80s references. As it covers an entire decade, it could’ve done with celebrating a few more women – female authors, movies, directors, singers, game creators, etc. I rolled my eyes when Halliday’s favourite authors were listed… male, male, male. Halliday didn’t read anything by Ursula K. Le Guin? Or Margaret Atwood? It seems unlikely!

Ready Player One read like a game walkthrough, which I found immensely fun (or, as I’ve just discovered, is described as a Literary Role Play Game), and I loved all the characters… Wade, Aech, and Art3mis (but no, Ernest, you didn’t need to tell us it was pronounced “Artemis”), plus Shoto and Daito. I’m so glad I finally got to read this cult classic sci-fi novel. I now need to check out the film!

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I really do want to read more thrillers, but I find it incredibly difficult to choose one – I need them recommended to me! So when The Silent Patient was announced, I was intrigued. It looks set to be one of the most talked about books of 2019. In Alex Michaelides’ debut, Alicia Berenson is the silent patient. Her life is seemingly perfect. She’s a successful artist and married to famous fashion photographer, and everyone is surprised when she is found at home, having just shot her husband five times in the face. And she hasn’t said a word since. Six years later, criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber takes on the job of treating Alicia at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London – and Alicia’s case threatens to spiral out of control.

One of the reasons I read (albeit, rarely) thriller/crime/mystery novels is that I love not knowing what’s going to happen next, and guessing what the truth might be. I knew there was a lot of hype about The Silent Patient (something I’m unable to resist), and I kept on reading, intrigued by Alicia Berenson and her motivations, and the people in her life – who can be trusted? You’re taken on a journey through Theo’s personal and work life, not necessarily knowing where it is going or whether he’ll be able to get Alicia talking again. I would’ve loved a few more twists and turns throughout the novel rather than just one huge (although impressive) twist, but The Silent Patient certainly gave me the thirst for even more thrillers!

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What I’ve Read / All These Beautiful Strangers, My Heart Goes Bang & More Happy Than Not

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers was recommended by one of my good friends, Bella, who knew that I enjoyed boarding schools, secret societies, and a lot of mystery. Charlie Calloway is immensely privileged. She’s rich, has a close family, a loyal set of friends and achieved top grades at her fancy boarding school. She’s always been taught that she’s different; special, better, so when an exclusive secret society – the A’s – sends her an invitation to join the club, there’s no question that she should join. But Charlie quickly finds herself at the heart of a decades-old mystery involving a terrible family crime: what does her mother’s disappearance have to do with the A’s? And is Charlie willing to risk her membership to find out?

All These Beautiful Strangers switches between 2017 and the 1990s, with everything slowly unfolding until Charlie discovers the truth. It was such a fun, immersive read – even though I’d have loved for it to focus more on Charlie and the the A’s – and is a fabulous blend of YA and adult fiction. Charlie really develops as a character and you end up loving her even though you shouldn’t, and the twists will keep you guessing until the end.

My Heart Goes Bang by Keris Stainton

I bought My Heart Goes Bang for London Pride and it turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. It now sits on my favourites shelf next to Freshers, and I’d absolutely love to see more books set at university. Ella, Lou, Issey, Liane and Paige are ready for their second year at the University of Liverpool and their new student house. They’re settling in when Ella comes across a magazine article with a list of men they should date before they’re 21 (e.g. someone who’s been on TV, someone who has tattoos), and challenge her house to complete it.

When you come across ‘Bastard’ and ‘Fuck. Me.’ on the first page, you know it’s going to be a great book. I adored our five protagonists and you’re bound to identify with one of them – I’m very much an Ella, fairly sensible, bookish and attracted to nice boys.

My Heart Goes Bang brought back so many memories of being at university (minus the Fuck-It List!). It’s narrated by five awesome girls – I enjoyed each of their storylines, featuring everything from bisexuality to money worries – and is sex-positive (which we need so much!), funny and relatable. I wish I had this as a fresher. There will be a sequel, right?!

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera has been one of my favourite authors since I read They Both Die at the End & History is All You Left Me, so I was super excited when Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of his first book, newly published in the UK, More Happy Than Not. Adam Silvera does magical realism excellently. Aaron Soto lives in a world where, if you wish, your memories can be completely wiped so you no longer have to remember troubling times. Aaron hasn’t had the surgery, but he’s struggled with depression ever since his father died and, with help from his girlfriend, he’s slowly remembering what happiness feels like. But then he meets Thomas, who’s smart and funny and gets Aaron. They’re best friends until, much to his surprise, Aaron falls in love with him. And then he must make a decision.

More Happy Than Not is another brilliant contemporary story from Adam Silvera and, like his previous books, doesn’t go the way you expect it to. It deals with sexuality in an incredibly complex way. Aaron’s story is intense and sad, but layered with geeky comic book references and rediscovering the joy of being with someone who understands you. I’m ready to read What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera!

P.S. Pretty Books is 8 years old today!

Mini Book Reviews / Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, The Summer of Us & Lying About Last Summer

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

Holly is an author whose books I’ll read no matter what: her mental health + feminist chat is always on my insta read list, so when Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? was handed to me at work, I was super excited.

Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes? takes place in Camp Reset, which promises a shot of “normality” for Olive, whose poor mental health is a struggle. Olive, with help from fellow campmate Louis, comes up with a plan to solve everyone’s problems, hence #KindnessIsContagious. As with Clean by Juno Dawson, I adored meeting the campmates and learning about their individual experiences. It’s important to remember that other people’s experience of mental health won’t necessarily be the same as yours, which is one of the reasons why Olive doesn’t want to know her diagnosis; it can define you, how you see yourself, and how people treat you.

I adore Holly’s writing style and Are We All Lemmings & Snowflakes?, like her other novels, tackles an important issue that people need to read about in a way that makes you understand. Self-care is a phrase that’s banded around a lot lately, but Holly shows us that it’s essential, not just for individuals, but for everyone.

“You don’t have to stop looking after yourself just to help the world. In fact, sometimes it’s better for the world if you put yourself first. That’s not being selfish, in fact looking after yourself is the greatest act of kindness you can give the world.”

The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse

The Summer of Us was the first book from my summer TBR. Aubrey has two weeks before she leaves for college. She and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last trip across Europe to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible.

But, as usual, trouble arrives in boy-form. Jonah (Aubrey’s perfect boyfriend) is also coming along with his best friend Gabe (who Aubrey accidentally kissed, awks). And not forgetting Rae’s crush, Clara. For the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed city break adventures with my friends, so it was fun seeing these five teenagers visit Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and Barcelona.

It can be tricky to travel with friends, especially as I’m the anxious Aubrey-type. You’re together 24/7. It’s stressful and intense. And that’s even without the relationship drama. It was difficult to read about the tension between Audrey and Rae, and I silently pleaded with them to just talk to each other (communication is everything, people!). I enjoyed the love triangle that is Aubrey, Gabe and Jonah, plus Rae and Clara were completely adorable.

The Summer of Us is a fun novel about friendship, travel and relationships… and it was the perfect start to the summer.

Lying About Last Summer by Sue Wallman

To accompany the slightly lighter novels on my summer TBR, I thought it’d be fun to add a contemporary thriller into the mix! Skye’s older sister, Luisa, was killed in a tragic accident, and her parents think that a camp for troubled teenagers, Morely Hill, might help Skye process the grief. But once there, she begins to receive messages from someone pretending to be her dead sister.

So, Morely Hill isn’t quite as relaxing as Skye’s parents expected. She has to deal with her fellow campmates, some of whom make life extremely difficult (aka Joe), being expected to join in with activities that remind her of her sister, plus the frankly terrifying texts from someone who has access to her sister’s group message. I really felt for Skye. I haven’t experienced the death of a sibling, but it’s a lot for one teenager to hold onto, especially because she lacks someone to talk to and support her.

Lying About Last Summer deals with grief, loss, memories and guilt, and I liked that the storyline is much about Skye’s recovery as much as it is about the mystery.

Mini Book Reviews / Leah on the Offbeat, Clean & Bookshop Girl

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah is Simon’s awesome bestie from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, ready to tell her story. She’s a girl-band drummer, with a dry sense of humour, unashamedly bisexual – and in love with one of her best girl friends.

Leah on the Offbeat‘s main focus is friendship – much more so than Simon vs. – and everything’s unravelling in Creekwood. I loved seeing the gang back together, especially our faves Simon and Bram. But I would’ve loved a bit more romance, too! I was swayed by all the raving on Twitter and Instagram, and assumed we’d get to see Leah live happily ever after, coupled up with a girlfriend, but that’s not what Leah on the Offbeat is about. Leah is openly bisexual to her mother but it’s kept a secret from her friends – and that’s okay. There’s a lot of pressure for people to be open and out, but not everyone’s comfortable with sexuality being a large part of their identity. Even so, I wish Leah was a bit more open-minded when talking about sexuality with Abby – she was a little judgemental at times!

Leah on the Offbeat takes us back to Creekwood and into the lives of teenagers who are just trying to figure themselves, and everyone else, out.

Clean by Juno Dawson

Lexi Volkov is beautiful, sex-positive, a socialite, the daughter of a rich Russian… and addicted to drugs. When Lexi overdoses and her brother Nikolai takes her to an exclusive rehab facility, The Clarity Centre, she’s in for a shock. It’s here that she becomes friends with fellow teens, from ex-child star Brady to Kendall, who’s transgender and has an eating disorder.

Clean doesn’t hold back, and that’s what I loved about it – drugs, sex and swearing, it’s part of every teenager’s life Clarity. Lexi’s not someone I’d be friends with (or even meet!) IRL, but I couldn’t help but adore her and hope that she’d push past her addiction. But rehabilitation isn’t easy and Lexi’s about to go through some very dark times. There are many types of addiction, and Clean makes each and every character relatable, regardless of what they’re struggling with, from relationships to drugs.

Clean is my favourite Juno Dawson novel so far. The TV rights have been snapped up, and I really hope it gets made – it’s UKYA Gossip Girl for the 2020s.

Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

Bookshop Girl was written for teen Stacey. When it’s announced that Bennett’s Bookshop will close down, Paige Turner is having none of it. It’s her place of work; where she goes with her best friend and colleague, Holly, to buy her next favourite book; and a pillar of the Greysworth community. Paige won’t go down without a fight, even if there are pretty artistic boys around to distract her.

Paige’s bookshop campaign alights the fire in all booklovers. I’m from London and so I’m lucky enough to have loads of fantastic chain and independent bookshops around me, but what if the one local bookshop in my town was going to close? It’s a very real issue, and one that Chloe Coles – bookworm and bookseller – tackles with giggles, book tokens and feminism.

On a side note, I work at National Book Tokens and this autumn you’ll be able to get your hands on this Bookshop Girl gift card, which was super fun to work on and I can’t wait to see it in bookshops around the UK!

 

Mini Book Reviews / Skylarks, The Astonishing Colour of After & From Twinkle, With Love

Skylarks by Karen Gregory

Joni is constantly worried about money. Her dad is unable to work due to disability, her family’s about to be evicted, and she might have to give up her job volunteering at the school library. Joni’s life goes in an unexpected direction when she meets Annabel, a fellow volunteer. Skylarks is about these two girls – one working class and poor, and one posh and rich – and their new relationship.

Skylarks sees Joni battling between doing what she feels right and what her family think she should do. Her entire family are hugely present throughout the story and in Joni’s life (much to her distress!), which I love because it’s not something we often see in YA, which is often full of deceased and absent parents.

Annabel and Joni are both adorable, and the relationship storyline also doesn’t go in the direction you might expect. I never felt like I was reading about characters, but real people. There was a lot of push and pull between the characters. Both girls have their faults, and it was lovely watching them work each other out as well as simply get to know each other. Skylarks also shouts about all the great things that teenagers experience and fight for: same-sex relationships, tolerance and open-mindedness, volunteering and political activism.

Skylarks isn’t a coming out story, but a beautiful tale of coming together.

The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

After her mother commits suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan with her father. Before they leave, she meets a curious bird – and is convinced it is her mother.

Leigh is such a fantastic character. She’s passionate about art and although she draws in black and white, colour is hugely important to her. Like a non-medical synesthesia, Leigh thinks and feels in colour. Leigh’s passion for art is tied to her friendship/romance with Axel. They kissed before Leigh left and now she can’t face talking to or seeing him again. I loved discovering more about their relationship.

The Astonishing Colour of After is mostly set in Taiwan. Leigh discovers more about her family, their culture, and learns Taiwanese. This is a story where magical realism is key. The flashbacks were fascinating and beautiful, and it’s as much the story of Leigh’s grandmother and parents as it is of Leigh. There’s also an exploration of mental illness that I haven’t yet seen in YA. Leigh’s mother has depression, and it just is. That can be the hardest thing of all for people to understand – Leigh’s mother couldn’t see a way out.

I discovered a lot to love about The Astonishing Colour of After. It’s a novel that I’ve been telling everyone to pick up, including people who don’t usually read YA!

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, so I couldn’t wait to read From Twinkle, With Love.

Like one of my favourite YA novels, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Twinkle starts chatting with a boy via email who says he’s in love with her, and she cannot help but try to figure out who it is. And then there’s the romance between Twinkle and Sahil, the nerdy twin brother of her current crush. Will she pick Sahil, his brother, or the mystery boy?!

I enjoyed Twinkle’s passion for film, especially for her favourite female film-makers, and the story is told through letters that she writes to them. I would’ve preferred a narration like Dimple, but I did enjoy that this was a huge part of the story, and would’ve loved to see even more film fangirling – I loved seeing Sahil and Twinkle shop for film costumes!

In From Twinkle, With Love, we meet a lot of teenagers from Twinkle’s school. Maddie’s a half awesome best friend, half Mean Girl. As for Sahil, on one hand he’s delightful and the best boyfriend and on the other, he’s in love with the idea of Twinkle – the girl he’s made up in his head – more than Twinkle herself. There’s a lot of drama in Twinkle’s world!

I devoured From Twinkle, With Love in two sittings and I may have shed a tear at the end… !