Mini Reviews: Fierce Fragile Hearts, Giant Days & The Night Olivia Fell

Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

I re-read Beautiful Broken Things before picking up Fierce Fragile Hearts and it really helped me appreciate the story more, I think. It reminded me how friendships were formed and about the different dynamics. It was great to go from Caddy’s to Susanne’s POV – I hope we get to hear from Rosie’s perspective someday!

Fierce Fragile Hearts is set two years laterSuze is back in Brighton and ready to catch up with her best friends, even thought they’re about to head off to university. After moving into a studio flat (and befriending the older lady downstairs, Dilys), she finds that her new life won’t be easy.

In the previous book, we didn’t really get to know Suze properly, but Fierce Fragile Hearts gave us the chance to go deeper. Suze is still very emotional, affected by her past, and really quite lonely. She is warned away from Matt, the charismatic musician, which she of course ignores. She is trying to make her life better – whilst simultaneously sabotaging herself. That’s what sums up the book for me: Suze developing as a character, and her two friends around her (even when they aren’t physically there). Sara Barnard still, for me, writes some of the most realistic portrayals of friendship, and I really enjoyed this follow-up!

Giant Days by Non Pratt

Even though I’ve only read the first volume of the graphic novels, I was so excited to hear about this book inspired by the Giant Days series – and written by one of my favourite YA authors! In Giant Days, we follow the lives of “three university first-years: Daisy, the innocent home-schooled girl; Susan, the sardonic wit; and Esther, the vivacious drama queen”.

As I’ve said on Pretty Books before, I adore novels set in university. I loved that each of the girls’ first-year experiences is different: Daisy’s going through homesickness and loneliness, and tries to deal with this by doing All the Things; Susan’s having to deal with her past when a boy called McGraw shows up; and Esther’s just making it up as she goes along.

I found it a little difficult at first to jump quickly between the three characters, but once we were introduced to the three girls and their time at university, it got easier to follow their misadventures and mishaps.

I also love that my friend Grace is a character in the book!

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald

I’ve been in *such* a reading slump this year. It has nothing to do with the books I’ve been reading and all to do with me. What I needed was a fast-paced book… a thriller seemed like the perfect choice! I hadn’t heard about The Night Olivia Fell before picking it up (which, if you’re a fellow blogger, you’ll know is very unusual and exciting!).

Abi Knight is woken up in the middle of the night and told that her teenage daughter has had an accident. Olivia slipped and fell from a bridge into the icy water below, and is now on life support – not only that, she’s three months pregnant. But what if she didn’t fall? What if she was pushed?

The Night Olivia Fell is all about discovering what really happened to Olivia that night. Was it an accident? Did someone want her dead? And if so, who? And who is the father of her baby?

The Night Olivia Fell did the trick – it only took three days to read – and was enjoyable, if not the most memorable thriller. (I did spot two instances of ‘I let out a breathe I didn’t know I was holding’ – sorry! I can’t help it!). It was so much fun piecing together all the ‘evidence’ as the narration switched between Abi and Olivia. The novel is marketed as adult, but it could easily be YA,, too. If you need non-violet, fast-paced thrillers, The Night Olivia Fell could be one to try!

#gifted: All three books were obtained for free in exchange for an honest review.

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Mini Reviews: The Rumour, The Flatshare & Don’t You Forget About Me

The Rumour by Lesley Kara

I really want to read more thrillers. They’re just so much fun. I especially love them without gore and trauma (for the reader!) like, The Couple Next Door – and The Rumour. In Lesley Kara’s suspenseful novel, single mum Joanna hears a rumour that Sally McGowan – the notorious child killer – is living in her small town. Sally was only 10 years old when she stabbed little Robbie Harris to death 48 years ago… but does helping to spread the rumour mean that Joanna’s now in danger?

Lesley Kara kept me guessing throughout the book to the point where I suspected all the characters of being Sally McGowan. The reader has to decide: Is Sally really living there? And is she who everyone says she is? Lesley keeps the reader on edge right until the very end.

The Rumour isn’t the sort of thriller where Sally McGowan is painted as the villain and that’s that. The reader is encouraged to think about what it’d be like living under witness protection, and whether someone deserves to be punished for something that happened when they were a child – especially a child with horrendous family circumstances. It makes you wonder whether the group of Flinsted-on-Sea mums are guilty of more crimes than a child…

I’m keen to read Lesley Kara’s next book, Who Did You Tell?, out later this year. Her writing style reminds me of Rosamund Lupton, a thriller writer I adored years and years ago!

What are your favourite thrillers?

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare was technically one of my favourite books of 2018, despite being published this year!

Tiffy Moore needs a room. Leon Twomey needs extra money. The solution to their problems? To share a bed, of course… You’ve heard about flatsharing, but bed sharing? It may sound unusual, but in today’s London, with sky-high rents and extortionate house prices, it probably does exist. Tiffy and Leon are never in their flat at the same time due to different work hours, and so have never actually spoken – aside from through Leon’s nosey girlfriend and the Post-It notes they leave each other. And yet, over time, love blossoms…

The Flatshare was so incredibly believable – aside from the fact that neither of them seemed to have a sick day! – and I became so throughly immerse in Tiffy and Leon’s romantic and adorable story that I finished the book in a day. I tend to struggle with contemporary female writing, not because I’m a book snob (I’m really not!), but because I cannot relate to characters that are married with children, and so The Flatshare was absolutely perfect for me.

I loved Tiffy and Leon, and the entire cast of characters. Tiffy and her quirky ways endeared me. She’s a fave. And I adored Richie’s part (Leon’s wrongly imprisoned brother) in getting Leon and Tiffy together.

The Flatshare is out in April and is the perfect romcom, especially for fellow millennials.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

I heard that Mhairi McFarlane was the contemporary romcom writer to read and so I made Don’t You Forget About Me my last book of the year (2018 needed extra fuzziness).

Georgina is fired from her job at the grottiest restaurant in town and comes home to find her boyfriend, Justin, in bed with someone else. He’s dumped, obviously, but it really is a shitty day for G. Georgina takes the first job she’s offered – a barmaid at the cosy local pub – and it’s here that she bumps into her school boyfriend, Lucas McCarthy.

Lucas is a striking character. I kept imagining him as an Irish Patrick Dempsey but much more aloof and sarcastic. I would’ve loved even more tension and adorableness (totally a word) between the two, but I still throughly enjoyed the pair’s cutesy drama. After all, Don’t You Forget About Me is actually a story Georgina at Life at 30 – and the romance is just one part of that.

Justin is the actual worst. Don’t You Forget About Me and The Rumour both do a great – and incredibly important – job of highlighting emotional abuse (particularly gaslighting), so it’s wonderful that we’re getting more books like these.

I want to check out Mhari McFarlane’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, which I also have, next!

#gifted: All three books were obtained for free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Mini Book Reviews: The Couple Next Door, Floored & City of Ghosts

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I’m not a massive consumer of audiobooks, but when I do listen to them, it’s in bed – and I never thought that a psychological thriller would be the perfect choice. I don’t get to read thrillers often, but when I saw that The Couple Next Door was available to borrow on Libby, I had to download it. 

The Couple Next Door is about Anne and Marco Conti, who are at a party next door while their tiny baby, Cora, is at home asleep. When they come home, Cora is missing.

The Couple Next Door was a great audiobook choice because it’s not violent – I didn’t have to worry about listening to someone describe murder in graphic detail whilst lying in my bed at night – but it was still incredibly gripping. I almost didn’t want to go to sleep when the next chapter started. I had my suspicions and the story didn’t go the way I expected. I was often frustrated at the characters – from Marco the husband to the police detective Rasbach – and desperately wanted the baby to be found alive.

I’ll definitely be listening to Shari Lapena’s A Stranger in the House. If you have any other thriller/mystery audiobook recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Floored by Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson, and more

Floored is described as The Breakfast Club meets One Day; a unique collaborative novel by seven YA authors: Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood.

I’ve been in a reading slump for the past few months and knew what I needed was a fun, fast-paced YA contemporary novel. Floored is about six teenagers – six strangers – who meet when they get stuck in a lift with a man who suffers a heart attack, and continue to meet up on the anniversary of his death every year.

Floored is definitely about the characters’ friendship – and how that one day impacted all of their lives – rather than the plot, which was absolutely fine with me. I loved getting to know each of the teenagers, seeing how they developed and changed over the years. I managed to correctly guess which authors wrote which character for a few of them, particularly my fave Holly Bourne! (MyKindaBook tweeted the reveal here). I adored each character in their own way, but my favourites have to be Velvet, Kaitlyn and, I’d hate to say it… Hugo (although I love a Good Boy and so would have to throw Joe in there too). 

Floored was the perfect pick-me-up and made me want to get stuck into even more contemporary!

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts was my first Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab) book. It was my Halloween pick, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh, Scotland. I adored City of Ghosts as soon as I opened the page to a map of the city. 

City of Ghosts introduces us to young Cassidy Blake and her best friend – who happens to be a ghost – Jacob. Cass’ parents are The Inspectres, a famous ghost-hunting duo, but she’s the only one who can really see ghosts. That is, until she travels to Edinburgh to film the first episode of her parents’ new TV series and meets Lara, who is on a mission to send ghosts back to where they belong. As for the setting, you really feel like you’re in Edinburgh, walking through Grassmarket and visiting Blackwell’s on South Bridge (although I didn’t know about the underground vaults – I’ll have to visit!). 

I loved all the characters we meet in City of Ghosts. Cassidy, our protagonist, is not wholly into the whole seeing-ghosts-thing, although she completely adores Jacob and couldn’t imagine ever sending him away, even if she feels he’s keeping something from her. Cassidy’s parents are wonderful and show up in the story quite a bit, as does her new frenemy Lara. And what’s more, it’s full of Harry Potter references. It made me feel warm and cosy inside, which isn’t quite what you’d expect from a Halloween read, but it was a perfect choice nonetheless. 

City of Ghosts the first book in the Cassidy Blake series and I cannot wait to see where her next adventure takes her. 

“What you feel, Cassidy Blake, is called a purpose.”

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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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Mini Book Reviews / Orphan Monster Spy, The Exact Opposite of Okay & Becoming Betty

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I love the tagline ‘A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.’ and was gripped by Orphan Monster Spy from the start.

Orphan Monster Spy begins with 15-year-old Sarah, on the run from the government following her mother’s death. She meets a mysterious spy and persuades him to let her work alongside him, certain that her mother’s acting tuition will pay off – and he does. Her high-stakes mission is to infiltrate the Rothenstadt Academy as ‘Ursula Haller’, befriend the daughter of a scientist, and steal the blueprints for a bomb that could take out an entire city in one fell swoop. Because Sarah is Jewish – and also blonde and blue-eyed – she experiences terror from both sides, from fascist soldiers to cut-throat students.

Sarah is a brave, intelligent and quick-witted teenager, whose story gave me the same thrill that Wolf by Wolf did. As a reader, it’s exciting to be one of the chosen few to know the protagonist’s real identity. On her journey, she meets the Captain, close friend Mauser, who has more strength than she knows, and popular Elsa, whose life isn’t all that it appears, amongst many terrifying characters. Orphan Monster Spy is one of my favourite books of the year so far – super exciting, dark and intense story. Pick it up even if you’re usually not a fan of historical fiction!

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

18-year-old Izzy parties, drinks, dances and… sleeps with a boy. But that’s her business. Until a slut-shaming website is set up and she becomes the centre of a national scandal because the boy in question is a politician’s son. Thankfully, Izzy doesn’t have to deal with it alone. I adored Izzy’s friendship with her best friend Ajita and her wonderful and close relationship with her grandmother. It was also refreshing to see Izzy build a rapport with her supportive teachers, who encourage her to pursue her dream of being a comic writer. I loved Lauren Steven’s exploration of life as a teenager today – and it’s not always pretty.

Izzy gets up to mischief more than once and that was great to see. She may not make the ‘best’ choices, but this doesn’t mean she deserves to be judged and abused as a result. Izzy could’ve been a stereotypical ‘innocent’ and ‘perfect’ character to make it easier for us to feel sorry for her, but she’s not. No one is.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a feminist, hilarious and topical UKYA novel set in the US, covering everything from online bullying to revenge porn.

Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood

16-year-old Elizabeth aka Lizzie is nervous on her first day of sixth form college, wondering how she’s going to make friends, watching the cooler girls fit in easily like they’ve been there the whole time. But luckily she meets super cool Viv and they become instant best friends – even though she already has two perfectly excellent friends at her old school. Viv decides that Lizzie is to join her band and voilà, Betty is born. But is that who she really is?

Becoming Betty is set against the colourful and quirky backdrop of The Lanes in Brighton. I love reading books set here as I went to the University of Sussex and lived just outside of Brighton for three years. It’s easy to be jealous of Viv – who lives in her own flat with her boyfriend – but being friends with Viv isn’t all that great for Lizzie. I constantly wanted to shake her and shout “stop listening to Viv!”, but Betty has to make that decision on her own.

Becoming Betty is a fun snapshot into the drama-filled lives of two music-loving sixth formers. I need more feel good UKYA in my life!