Bookish Review: World Book Day 2016


World Book Day is exactly what is says on the tin Рan annual celebration of books across the globe. A host of famous authors pen special short stories as part of the event and these WBD reads are short, sweet and cheap but always high quality.

For World Book Day 2016, two authors of YA Royalty, Rainbow Rowell and Juno Dawson, offered up the older reads and so you can imagine I was excited to get stuck in.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Published: February 2016 by Macmillan Kids UK

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Short Story

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô•

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I will literally read anything by HRH Rainbow Rowell – seriously she could write about watching paint dry and I would still devour it ūüėÄ True to her style, Rowell’s Kindred Spirits¬†took us on a fangirl journey¬†that was just charming and adorkable.

Elena is a Star Wars fan. No, you don’t understand, if you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So she decides to camp out at her local cinema for the new movie.¬†Elena imagines a 3 days of glorious fangirling with people just as obsessed as her so she’s a little disappointed when the reality turns out to be a queue of two other people. However, over the course 3 days Elena finds that the bonds of fandom can overcome even the most awkward situation and lead to the discovery of the best kindred spirits…

Gosh this book was just so darned cute – like grinning-ear-to-ear cute. Kindred Spirits is infinitely quotable and relatable. I found myself laughing out loud at Elena’s mother’s response to her intent to camp out for the movie (“You don’t even know these men. They could be sexual predators.”) Also the whole Asian, petite, looking like a 12 year old? Yeah I could totally relate.

For a short story, the characters were wonderfully developed (skills, Ms Rowell *tips hat*). Troy was hilarious and so realistic whilst Gabe was brilliantly polite and genuine. I always appreciate how Rowell never makes her characters into caricatures when she writes about fangirling and fandom. Elena, Gabe and Troy covered the wide spectrum of different levels of obsession and helps us to realise that we should all be uniting rather than competing over who is a more devoted fan.

The¬†ending was perfect – it was adorable and I really hope Elena and Gave get a full length novel of their own. I’d love to see their friendship and relationship play out as well as find out more about each of the characters and their back stories. ¬†My final takeaway from this book? If you find a guy who can help you pee under fraught circumstances, he’s a keeper!

Spot the Difference by Juno Dawsom

Published: March 2016 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Short Story

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô•

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It was fitting that the Queen of Teen would be penning one of the YA WBD offerings and I went into Spot the Difference with no idea about the issues it dealt with.

Avery, and her best friend, Lois are distinctly Z-list at Brecken Heath High where the social pyramid is pretty rigid and defined. relegated by Avery’s severe acne and Lois’s “funny little arm”, Avery’s life is pretty grim. That is until a miracle cure comes along which seems to improve both her skin and her social status. But Avery soon finds perfection isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…

Spot the Difference was very different to Kindred Spirits. It deals with the issue of acne and explores it really well. I found it totally original and, as far as I’m aware, a main stream YA book has yet to deal with the issue with the focus Dawson does in Spot the Difference. Acne is a really prevalent condition and one that affects many young people from their teens and sometimes even into adulthood and so that was by far the best thing about this book.

Plot-wise, yes, it was a little clich√©d with the popular crowd and the reject that pines to belong to said crowd, and the ending that was a nicely packaged ‚Äúgrass isn‚Äôt always greener‚ÄĚ moral. But despite these misgivings I don‚Äôt think this was Dawson‚Äôs focus, rather the focus was more about Avery and how her life is defined by the condition of her skin. The broad cast of characters were pretty unremarkable and one-dimensional, mostly defined by their role as A-list or otherwise but I did find Avery‚Äôs character and the way she dealt with her issue realistic and well-written. None of us can say we wouldn‚Äôt at least consider ‚Äúgoing over to the dark side‚ÄĚ if we were in her position…

All in all, this is a really impressive go at dealing with an interesting and under-discussed issue in the space of 80 or so pages. Definitely a ‚Äúrealistic contemporary YA‚ÄĚ book to read for the issue it discusses rather than for the plot because it‚Äôs absolutely worth the very short time it would take to read it.

Bookish Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Published: April 2015 by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô•

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The Royal We¬†was a Book Club read and disclaimer up front: I don’t think this genre is generally up my street hence hence the rating. Nonetheless, I was slightly intrigued by the fact that the book is a fictionalised account of Kate and William’s story and was willing to have my initial impressions¬†proven wrong.

A year abroad at the University of Oxford¬†has American Rebecca Porter finding adventure and romance – with the future King of England no less. Prince Nicholas lives across the hall from Bex and before long she is swept up in¬†his eccentric group of friends, his undeniable charm and the¬†unbelievable royal lifestyle. But as is the way with fairy tales, the path of¬†true love is not without its obstacles and Bex finds herself thrust in the spotlight and caught up in the whirlwind of fancy parties, the tabloid press and the persistent paparazzi. And that’s not to mention the drama that her twin Lacey, Nick’s brother Prince Freddie and the couple’s respective families add into the mix. Before long Bex finds herself in the middle of a royal scandal and at risk of losing the life and love that she has sacrificed everything for…

The authors of the book run the successful fashion and celebrity blog Go Fug Yourself so it was interesting to read a book where the baddies are essentially the invasive tabloid press and bloggers who dig up the ultimate dirt on celebrities and light the kindle that propels scandals into the open. Cocks and Morgan are clearly very well acquainted with this journalistic style¬†and are pleasantly critical of the harmful consequences it can have for and on the subjects of tabloid gossip. It was refreshing that the book was sympathetic to Bex’s experience of the rabid paparazzi even as Cocks and Morgan owe their success to this kind of journalism and showed a level of self-awareness that I could appreciate.

However, when it comes to the actual story, I wasn’t particularly invested from the get go. It is closely based on Kate & Wills story (besides the obvious and glaring differences like the fact that Bex is American, they’re at Oxford rather than St. Andrews, and Nick’s mother is alive and kicking) and so it didn’t feel like anything new was being offered about the famous courtship. The characters felt a little bland and one-dimensional with each having one dominant personality trait that underlined their inclusion in the book – Gaz as the comic foil, Celia as the stalwart best friend, Lady Bollocks as the classic stuck up posh girl later turned ally, Freddie as the playboy prince, Lacy as the spoiled twin desperate to share Bex’s limelight. The tropes meant that you could almost see the story play out without reading even half of the book.

It also felt like the book could’ve been much, MUCH shorter without detracting from the main plot. A lot of the drama felt contrived and unnecessary while many of the chapters and events felt like filler material before we got to the climax – so much so that it was a bit of a slog to get through the 300 or so pages in the middle and still feel invested in the characters and their respective stories. One thing that irritated me was the introduction of some heavy topics such as mental illness and sexuality which I initially applauded but promptly realised they were essentially¬†plot devices brought on stage to further Bex and Nick’s relationship and then it was exit stage left. I definitely think these issues could have been developed with a bit more attention and respect.¬†The twist at the end whilst interesting came too late to reinvigorate my interest and by then I was just on the home stretch looking forward to finishing it.

I think people who are fans of gossip sites or even the history/”behind the scenes” of the Royal family might enjoy The Royal We¬†more than I did and as I said up front this really wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with. ¬†But despite this, even though I was willing to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong, Cocks and Morgan didn’t put forward a new spin on this well-known story to gauge much interest on my part ūüė¶

Bookish Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Asking For It¬†by¬†Louise O’Neill

Published: September 2015 by Quercus UK

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

Rating: ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô• ‚ô•

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I read O’Neill’s debut¬†Only Ever Yours (review here)¬†last year and liked it so I was looking forward to more material from the author. I also tend to prefer contemporary fiction to dystopia, the genre of Only Ever Yours,¬†so this looked very promising.

Asking For It follows Emma O’Donovan, a confident and gorgeous eighteen-year-old, who is gang-raped at a party by a group of boys who play on the school football team. Emma wakes up the morning after with no recollection of the previous night until she becomes the school pariah and she finally comes across the evidence of what happened to her that night of the party. As the explicit photos circulate wider and wider, Emma finds herself up against the town’s heroes and their supporters who¬†paint her as the girl who was “asking for it”.

The setting of the story is a small town in Ireland where the local football stars are worshiped as heroes who can do no wrong. It was interesting to see the reactions of the various characters play out, from family and close friends to people in positions of authority, and how everyone seemed to have an opinion on the rape – whether it was if¬†Emma was dealing with the incident “correctly” or who was to blame. One thing I really liked though was the focus throughout the novel on Emma and her immediate surroundings, her experience as she tries to reclaim her life. Oftentimes, stories such as this one can¬†get diluted with focus on the perpetrators which can take over the narrative and turn stories like this one into a victim’s story vs. perpetrator’s story. Thankfully Asking For It¬†steered well clear of this.¬†O’Neill also brought into sharp relief just¬†how the adage of “innocent until proven guilty” is a luxury usually afforded to the rapists but the not the victim who was immediately branded as “asking for it”.

I went through a roller-coaster of emotions reading¬†Asking For It¬†thanks to O’Neill’s writing which has been described like¬†a “scalpel” and that it most certainly is! There were two phrases that were repeated throughout the book and really drove home¬†Emma’s horrific ordeal and ensured the reader was never able to dismiss what happened to Emma – similar to the photos and how Emma could not escape them in the novel.

At the beginning, I was not at all impressed by Emma and I initially could not relate¬†to her. She was vapid, took her social status for granted and used it to hurt others, she was jealous of her friends’ wealth, stealing from them because she didn’t believe it was wrong. She was corrosive and unsympathetic to those outside her circle of friends as well as those within. But I think the whole point of the book was that you weren’t particularly meant to like Emma – it makes us¬†acknowledge that empathy towards Emma’s/any victim of rape’s plight should not be based on how likable they are, how short their dress is, how much they’ve had to drink etc. It should be about the fact that they have been abused in the most horrific way and that rape is rape no matter who it happens to. And this goes back to the crux of the whole novel.

Following the aftermath, I went from not liking the character to feeling her despair. The guilt she felt and that was placed on her by all sections of society, from within her own family to news columnists across the¬†country, was relentless and¬†O’Neill masterfully makes the reader feel that anguish . The final emotion was heartbreak when I read the ending – I won’t go in to any great detail as I don’t want to spoil anyone but¬†whilst I, like a number of other readers, felt it could’ve been different, I’m glad it wasn’t. O’Neill’s ending whilst perhaps not the most uplifting is incredibly realistic and honest. This book belongs to victims like Emma and the sad fact is that rarely do these stories have happy endings. The ending was true to many victims which is infinitely more important and I’m glad that O’Neill did their stories and courage justice.

The only issue I had with Asking For It was that the flow felt a little disjointed at times. Tenses and the characters speaking changed between one sentence and the next at odd times, and I found I had to re-read some entire paragraphs just to decipher it thus ruining the flow for me. This kind of writing style would make sense post-incident where the disjointed thoughts of the victim as a result of trauma could be illustrated but it was the case at the beginning too Рthe first couple of pages in fact.

Overall though, Asking For It is a brilliant contribution to the genre and is a hard-hitting and emotional read. It deals with a topic that is oft-overlooked and challenges the judgmental narrative around rape and consent. Definitely a must-read for all ages and genders in my opinion.

Bookish Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide NotesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Published: July 2015 by Simon Pulse

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♡ ♡ ♡

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I was drawn to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls because of the haunting title and cover. The blurb held promise of teenage issues, intrigue and tragedy and compared the novel to Gone Girl and 13 Reasons Why, two books I’ve read and enjoyed. Plus¬†it’s a mystery so¬†basically it was ticking all of my boxes!

Up until a year ago, June and Delia were best friends. Whilst Delia was the more daring, experienced and also slightly unstable¬†of the two, theirs was an unwavering friendship despite their differences, one¬†bonded by the ties of secrets. However, when one night’s antics go too far, their friendship is tested and in the aftermath, June distances herself from Delia. That is until she hears news¬†that¬†Delia has died in a suspected suicide. For June, the incident dredges¬†up the past and not-so-old feelings and she finds herself obsessing over what exactly happened that night when Delia went up in flames, and what drove her to take such drastic action? After Delia’s ex-boyfriend suggests foul play, June begins to dig deeper into her old friend’s suicide and is confronted with the fact that some details about the incident just do not add up…

“Having secrets together makes you real friends,” she said. “Secrets tie you together.” And June felt suddenly giddy at the idea that Delia would want to be tied to her.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls started well.¬†When the idea that Delia’s death might not have been suicide, but something more sinister, was introduced it held promise. It was endearing at the beginning to see June so doggedly follow the few clues she had and put herself in uncomfortable positions because she was desperate¬†to do right by her friend.¬†The story was setup using¬†flashbacks showing their friendship before they became estranged. It was these glimpses into the past that allowed the reader to get a better understanding of Delia and June and their friendship since¬†details were scarce in the present. Their inseparability and reliance on each other was clear and it made the reader want to find out what exactly happened that changed things so drastically between them. These flashbacks though¬†were not in chronological order and so the narrative did often feel rather disjointed.

As I read on, I also started to find the characterisation quite flimsy. I did not care one iota for Delia, and considering the whole point of this book was finding out the truth behind her alleged suicide, it didn’t help me feel any sympathy for the character or cheer on¬†June to solve the mystery. I also couldn’t get fully behind the whole friendship either – it seemed toxic and didn’t seem to be balanced for the two of them. June seemed much more reliant on Delia, crediting her with giving her confidence, whilst Delia came across as rather¬†possessive. Although¬†close and almost obsessive friendships between girls aren’t all that uncommon when growing up, this friendship did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s like when Delia was around, the borders of June’s skin weren’t there. Delia wrapped her up and sunk right in.

In terms of the other characters, June’s boyfriend wasn’t well-developed enough for me to take his plot arc seriously. The characters introduced later on were also rather two-dimensional, their only purpose was to serve as plot devices and they all appeared to have just one or two basic characteristics – jealous, broody, pining etc etc. Although this could be explained by their background, which I won’t go into in detail because spoilers, I still didn’t feel like it was a good enough reason to not develop them a bit further especially as they’re pretty crucial to the climax. Save for Jeremiah, Delia’s ex-boyfriend, who seems to be the only character to show any genuine¬†emotion, none of the characters felt realistic¬†beyond walking and talking plot devices which was a huge shame.

The biggest let down for me was the turn the book took about mid-way. It felt a bit like a cop-out and invalidated all that had happened up to that point. And everything that happened from the point onward didn’t seem to have much substance or point – June, and the reader, were essentially just waiting around for the climax to happen and in the meantime all the characters had time to do was¬†to indulge in some petty avoidable¬†drama. Even still, I could’ve forgiven these issues¬†if the twist¬†wasn’t so guessable early on. It all got a little too far-fetched for me, and not enough was done by Weingarten to convince me to suspend my disbelief.

I had high hopes for Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls but I was left feeling underwhelmed and a little frustrated because it had potential. The plot took some pretty huge liberties at the expense of being “twisted” and “unpredictable” and, because I couldn’t connect to the characters beyond a superficial level, it fell flat for me.¬†Still I’ve given the book 2/5 because I did want to finish the book and because the first half wasn’t terrible.

If you’re looking for a¬†satisfying thriller/murder mystery which deals which weaves in unreliable narrators and toxic friendships, I suggest you look no further than Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas – one of my absolute all time favourite YA murder mystery thrillers.

Have you read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls? What were your thoughts on the ending?¬†Let me know¬†in the comments below ūüôā