The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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On Feeling Successful (As Told Through A Trip To Copenhagen)

Two middle aged men sit across from me on the train home from Gatwick Airport.

“So what’s your youngest doing now?”
“He’s just been signed to a modelling agency! He’s only eighteen! What about your Sarah? She still at uni?”
“She graduated with a 1st, and now she’s a top marketing executive in London!”

It’s strange that this story starts at the end, when I’m tired and greasy and starving. The flight from Copenhagen to Gatwick was only 1 hour 40 minutes but adding on the waiting and the queuing and the scanning of tickets and passports I’d say it feels like an all day shindig. I rarely eavesdrop on people’s conversations, even if they’re sat so close on an empty train in the middle of the night, but the conversation between the two proud dads got to me.

As a young person who can find fault in everything I do, I find it difficult to feel like I’ve achieved something. I’m unemployed, living at home, with dreams and ambitions that can often seem out of reach. While these things aren’t things to be ashamed of, they certainly pale in comparison to others.

The feeling of success is subjective and ever changing. It can be measured in so many ways, so many little intricate threads that make you proud of the person you are. Success moves with time, and changes depending on the decades, years, months, minutes. I haven’t felt successful in a long time, but on the late night train journey back home from a few days in Copenhagen, overhearing a conversation about the large successes of others in my generation and younger did not stoke the fires of my insecurities, but allowed me to process what I had just been through, or for a better term, what I had achieved.

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Copenhagen was spontaneous. I’d been cooped up in my house, in the little bubble of my life for far too long. I wanted to leave, even just for a long weekend, to experience something else. My friends made excuses (but also valid reasons) as to why they could not come with me. While going to another country on my own is always an option, to me, that was a step too far. But Twitter wasn’t. I tweeted indirectly that I wanted to go somewhere but just had no-one to go with, and hoped someone, if anyone, would take the bait (preferably mutuals of course).

And it worked!

I’d found friends online who wanted to join me and even an old work colleague who heard about my trip. The dates were set, deposits were paid, the flights booked. And then, the anxiety kicked in. Having a ton of responsibility suddenly be hitched onto your shoulders takes a lot of getting used to, and as an impatient worrier such as myself, I found the only thing to calm myself down was to research city maps, how to get from one terminal to the next, what trains to take, where to visit and how long it will take to get there, and to research more into the hostel we were staying in (and try not to let my friend’s exclaims of ‘hostels are dangerous you’re gonna die!’ get to me).

When the morning of the flight came I was a wreck. However, when I’m that nervous, I sort of turn into a shouty army officer who wants things to be done quickly and efficiently without any mucking about. It was that morning that I realised I wouldn’t just be responsible for myself, but also for my work colleague who is younger, less experienced in travel, and just all around a bit dopey with no sense of urgency. Don’t worry, she agrees with all these things.

The feeling of pride and achievement didn’t really set in until we’d checked into our hostel and I lay on my bunk bed and took in a deep breath. I’d done it. I’d gone through the awful experience of airport security unscathed and I’d traveled to another country without any adults whilst also looking after another human. I’d gone on the metro, found the way to the hostel and walked through a city with luggage (a big fear of mine is getting mugged).

And then beyond that; I was able to find my way around a whole new city which was in a different language, tried new foods, met new people, slept in a room with strangers, made decisions for where to eat (because my friends can’t make decisions), and made sure my friend didn’t walk into the many bicycles around the city. I also counted her money for her, made sure she didn’t accidentally shop lift, checked her bag was closed, and got her to stop asking me permission to do something/go somewhere. I was an independent traveler and also a mum.

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I visited a beautiful city in a beautiful country, experienced something new, and looked after myself in a way I haven’t in a really long time. I felt strong, I felt independent, I felt capable. And that to me, is a success. So, while I may not have a top job in London, a fancy apartment, or a million followers on Instagram, I was able to sit on the night train back home and feel just as proud as the dads sat opposite me.

And don’t worry, there’ll be a guide to Copenhagen coming soon!

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The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder
Release Date: July 2014
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the star chart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

I just clapped my hands together and shouted ‘SO’ to an empty room because I have a lot to say on this beauty of a book.

My expectations were fairly low; I rarely wander to adult sci-fi with space and spaceships and aliens because either I find the plots fairly similar and boring and copy cat versions of what they imagined space travel to be like in the 60s. But in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was not just a story but a commentary told through an highly imaginative and distinctly different storytelling that was just…WOWIE.

cropped-2017-03-13-05-03-25-11.jpgSo The Long Way is told over a good few years or ‘standards’ which I believe is longer than 12 months, where a crew have a job waiting for them on the other side of the galaxy. This is the over-arching plot that kickstarts everything, but the real stories are tucked inside the very characters on the Wayfarer where each person is given depth and development but it’s so much more than that. I’ve never read a character study that’s also paired with a whole new setting; writers like to explore deep characters and the flaws of what it means to be human in a setting we understand to better ground the characters in a more familiar place that won’t divert from the things the author is trying to do. But here, Becky Chambers manages to successfully juggle the two at the same time, WHILE not all the characters are even human.

Yeah. Incredible.

So we have these incredible characters, many of whom aren’t human, but are still telling this greater story of humanity and the greater good. How, we as sentients, need to look out for one another and respect customs, cultures and other languages. In the story’s universe, it’s a known fact that humans are a self-destructive and competitive species and that it had to change when allying with other species that were far more compassionate and advanced. It was amazing to read about these other fictional species who were just so different from other imaginings of aliens where, I often found, the aliens were still just humans but green, or blue or even were exactly like humans in every way. These species were nothing like humans; they had different languages, customs, body parts. Some had scales and feathers, some communicated through coloured lights in their cheeks, some didn’t wear clothes, some changed biological sex through age. There were differences in family dynamics and they way children were reared (as you can tell, the Aandrisk species was my favourite to learn about). It was just so interesting to read about and watching this crew grow into a family made my heart grow warm and fuzzy.

The Long Way definitely felt like a series of episodes, rather than one large quest, and so if any networks are looking for a sci-fi book to adapt into a show which is kind of like Firefly but SO much more imaginative, then this is your book. Get on it.

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 11th April 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. 

30653853Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I received an eARC from Penguin in an exchange for an honest review.

So this is a very cute book, like super cute.

Imagine a rom-com, with very little conflict and lots of teen drama, but so much better because not everyone is white and not everyone is straight.

The Upside of Unrequited was a very realistic and lovely insight into an alternative family lifestyle that’s loving and just as normal as any other. It’s also a very complicated look at the self-esteem of teenage girls and how new romance can be affected by that. I very much related to main character Molly now, more so than I would have when I was as a teenager (skinny and in a long term relationship), but I still find that appealing and it’s what makes Molly so loveable.

It’s great to read a book where LGBT people are happy and living a happy life. It’s possible, but many LGBT books concern themselves with so much drama and death and suffering. While I understand there has to be some drama within a book to actually have a plot, I found it refreshing that it didn’t ruin everything in it’s wake.

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Intense Publicity How It Affects Reading

I wanted to talk a little bit about hype.

Hype, by my own definition, is the feeling you build inside of people as they await for something. In this context, books.

It’s a very important part of marketing and publicity that there is hype surrounding a book. Sometimes it’s easy; the genre is a popular one, a trendy story line that always hits and never misses with it’s target demographic. Sometimes it’s even easier; the author is well known, award-winning, maybe even world-renowned. And sometimes it’s hard; it’s a debut author, niche subject matter, a risk, but nevertheless a risk the publisher is willing to take.

Hype sells. Hype gets things noticed.

But for me, and fairly often; Hype kills.

I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and I’ve never really known how to put it into words. But, since being very disappointed by a very highly anticipated book recently, I thought it would be time to discuss it.

A lot of the books, shows, movies that I have fallen in love with are often ones that I’ve found on my own. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo was still only circulating in the U.S. where I saw someone on Youtube mention it. I’d never heard of it, nor were people constantly talking about it. I found a hardback online for so cheap that I bought it and read it straight away. Que my love. But I often wonder if that would be different if people would not stop recommending it, if it was talked about in every Twitter chat and was announced on everyone’s TBR, if there were giveaways and competitions left, right, and centre. It’s a beautifully written story by a now auto-buy author for me, but would I enjoy it if I say, picked it up now?

Switch to a few days ago, where I had to write a two star review about a book that I’ve been excited for since July last year and have been greatly disappointed by. The plot, the setting, the concept all sounded so promising when I first heard of it. In my review I go into detail about how much the hype ruined the book for me, about how I may have enjoyed it more without the anticipation. It’s probably true; I wouldn’t have scrutinized it so much. My expectations were through the roof from the reviews and the talk around it. But at the same time, would I have? Like I said, I’d heard it once and was initially interested. Imagine, if that was all I heard about it; people didn’t talk about it as much and it wasn’t the subject of every fourth tweet on my Twitter timeline. Does the amount of hype really decide if I like a book or not?

It’s the same with shows too. I tend to enjoy them a lot more when I haven’t been either forced to watch them or pestered by everyone. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I didn’t watch Breaking Bad, Stranger Things etc because people wouldn’t shut up about them. They’re probably great, but the expectations I now have are so high that I’m not ready to experience the disappointment.

But then am I a part of the hype machine? I do not stop banging on about certain books that I’ve fallen in love with, particularly Jandy Nelson’s books and Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. I mention them in almost every chat, bring them up in every conversation about book recommendations. Do I contribute? I suppose, it’s always about the writing; many live up to the hype and many don’t. It depends on the hype too; I remember when Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season was being compared to Harry Potter, and when I read it I couldn’t believe that it had been compared to one of the best selling series of all time. But the second one? When the hype had died down and I’d decided to give it a second chance? Much better! Had the writing improved? Were my expectations way low? Probably a bit of both.

How does hype effect what you read? Are you seduced by the excitement and anticipation, or are you more of a finding a diamond in the rough kind of reader? Are there any hyped books you didn’t enjoy? Let’s talk!

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