If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

PUBLISHER: Titan Books/Flatiron Books
PUBLICATION DATE: April 2017
RATING: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
GOODREADS

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman

PUBLISHER: TINDER PRESS
PUBLICATION DATE: July 27th, 2017
RATING: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
GOODREADS

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable.
And the boys become men, and then Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything.

If only I could erase my memory and appreciate this story for the first time all over again.

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A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews

PUBLISHER: Orchard Books
PUBLICATION DATE: 7th June 2018
RATING: ☆ ☆ ☆  .5
GOODREADS

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

This book was intense.

I’ve mentioned before in blog posts about reading habits and tastes, that I really struggle with stories about abuse. Whether it’s depicted in tv, film, or books, I’m not one to watch/read it if I know it has scenes in it that’ll make me feel uncomfortable. But a part of me thinks I might be missing out on a lot of stories because I don’t like leaving my comfort zone. I am not a victim of child abuse, but I think it’s especially important to talk about content that some people may find triggering, even if it’s something you haven’t experienced. So, if depictions of violent, physical abuse does trigger you in any way, I would read more about this book before just going straight in (like I did). I wouldn’t tell you not to read a book, that is your decision to make, but at least you know this now and can make a more informed decision.

I had some idea about it just from the blurb, but I like going in blind to a book if I can; I seem to enjoy content more that way without having so many expectations of what it should be. I think for the most part, I did really enjoy this book’s depiction of the internal conflict of striving to be the best while feeling like the worst. Beck is considered by many (outside of his own family) as one of the best young piano players out there. He has a legacy to uphold since his mother was a world renowned classical piano player and his uncle a famous composer. However he’s constantly beaten and bruised by his mother’s desperation for him to be the best, despite thinking he’s terrible. Beck, because of this, also thinks he’s terrible, and I like how we don’t truly know whether he’s good or not.

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I’m gonna assume he is though. When you work hard on something, you get at least a little better at it, even if you’re not ‘born with the talent’.

The book on the whole is so sad as we peer into Beck’s inner lack of self-worth. I really felt for him, and was shouting when he made bad decisions. When you’re looking from the outside in at a bad situation, it’s very easy to say ‘do this! say that! just leave!’, but A Thousand Perfect Notes makes you really think about what you would do, and whether or not that would make the situation any better.

The writing was a bit strange in some places. There were a lot of similes and metaphors that were always taken to the extreme that seemed a little out of place. I can’t really explain without giving some examples:

“She whirls and Beck half expects wings made of frost and longing to sprout from her back and fly her home.”

Most of these strange sentences are either descriptions of August or speech from August. And I get why; she’s a bit of a stereotypical manic pixie dream girl. She’s kind of considered kooky because she doesn’t wear shoes often and has dreadlocks and is vegan. The story overall is a fairly stereotypical story but with more depth. Rather than Beck just being a mopey, alternative guy who needs a bit of colour in his life à la 500 Days of Summer, it’s all a bit more sinister. And rather than rolling my eyes at a lot of the cliches, I was more invested in Beck’s life. Unfortunately though, August still came across as a bit two dimensional.

This is a great debut from someone who has read far and wide about what makes a good book. Seriously, Cait’s reviews are on EVERY SINGLE BOOK PAGE ON GOODREADS. So congratulations Cait and can’t wait to read all your future books!

 

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The Good Immigrant Edited By Nikesh Shukla

Publisher: Unbound
Release Date: 22nd September 2016
Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?

Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

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I have not read a non-fiction in such a long time. I have many, pretty daft excuses, ranging from I don’t like the subject matter to I’m just too damn excited about the fiction that’s coming out and I just don’t have time. But I didn’t want these excuses to make me stop picking up The Good Immigrant.

Crowdfunded and supported into being published, The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays written by people of BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) background and talks about life in the UK while being BAME. The only reason I had heard about it was because some of the contributors I actually follow on Twitter who were promoting the heck out of it (of course!) and I got my hands on it as soon as I could.

While social media has definitely done the most part in making me more aware of institutionalized racism, diversity in entertainment, casual racism and so much more, The Good Immigrant made these topics much more personal, especially when every single essay is taken from memories of experiencing oppression from straight up racial bullying at school to micro-aggressions at the airport.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read are ‘this book was too sad’ and I feel that if that’s all you got from this book, then you kinda missed the point of it. Yes, of course there are many sad parts; these experiences weren’t written about to make you feel… I don’t know, entertained? I mean sure, there were some especially funny essays and jokes, but to me, it was about listening and understanding voices that barely get a chance to speak even in today’s ‘tolerant’ society. Yes, it certainly may be better in some aspects, but in others? In the parts that aren’t so explicit? That you can easily not see or notice or ignore because you’re a white person? That’s what’s in the book. And while you can easily say ‘everyone should read this book’, I think realistically it’s better to say ‘if you want to consider yourself a white ally or someone who doesn’t want to contribute to what you think isn’t racist and damaging, then read this book’.

But also, just read it for the voices. Read it for the understanding. Read it because it is GOOD AND GREAT.

 

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 1st June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

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Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

This book is damn cute.

When Dimple Met Rishi is, in many ways, a pretty standard contemporary YA novel, with hilarious hijinks, serious issues and scenarios, and sometimes dramatic but realistic portrayal of a heterosexual teen relationship. But it’s also so much more than that.

It’s not conventional, it’s not the standard, it’s actually telling a story that is not often told; the lives of two Indian-American teenagers, fighting for their place in a society which is fighting against them, whether it be the colour of their skin, their class, or their gender.

Dimple is a talented coder, whose dream is to win a competition that would have her present an app idea to a top revolutionary in the techie world, and we see her struggle in a world of rich white kids who get ahead of her for reasons that shouldn’t matter when it comes to succeeding in the industry.
Rishi comes from tradition, a religious family who only wants what’s best for him, and that’s an arranged marriage with a girl he barely knows. We see the difference in generations, especially on a topic that’s considered really controversial in the Western world and are offered a different perspective which I really enjoyed.

I loved Dimple and Rishi’s back and forth and the way they worked together despite their initial meeting and how caring and respectful they were of each other. And it was actually nice to see a contemporary love interest that wasn’t a dick disguised as an unobtainable mystery (nice one Rishi!).

This book comes out pretty soon, so if you’re looking out for a summery contemporary that’s not a complete U turn from the formula you already love, but still a turn into a new, diverse direction, then When Dimple Met Rishi should be on you TBR!

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Always & Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 4th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

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Unfortunately, I do not think Always and Forever, Lara Jean lives up to it’s predecessors.

While all three books in the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy definitely exude this feeling of living on a pink, fluffy cloud that smells like bubblegum and cake mixture, this last book feels a little different to the others…it doesn’t really have a plot.

Unlike the first two books where there’s the whole fake boyfriend scenario in book one, and then relationship drama and a love triangle in book two, book three just sort of happens. I love Lara Jean and enjoy getting this insight into her life but AAFLJ just came across as diary entries that she was forced to write for a Creative Writing class that she’s not really into.

There’s no conflict, and if there is even a little, it’s no big deal and it’s easily resolved. The word I would call this book is: mild. It’s a chicken korma. I like chicken korma, but it’s not exactly my most adventurous choice of a dish.

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
Goodreads

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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