The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: a book which made me ridiculously happy! :):):)

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The Upside of Unrequited. Becky Albertalli. Penguin. April 2017.

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.

Then 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 and 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 with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?


I can’t even explain to you how much joy I experienced whilst reading this book. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know how frequently I wax lyrical about Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, aka the book I reread whenever I’ve had a thoroughly crappy week and need some cheering up. Because of how much I loved Becky Albertalli’s debut, I was nervous picking up her second book, worried I wouldn’t adore it in the same way I did Simon. But my worrying was in vain, people! This book made my heart so happy, and I can now officially say that Becky Albertalli is one of my FAVOURITE authors. I will auto-buy anything she ever writes in the future, and I can’t WAIT for her next book!

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was Molly; she was SUCH a relatable protagonist. At school, I was exactly like Molly – I was super awkward and shy around boys I liked, and I never put myself out there, because I was so scared of rejection. I was also overweight like Molly, and I related so much to how this made her feel at times, particularly when she felt like the boys she liked wouldn’t be interested because of her weight.

Molly also had anxiety, and sometimes I felt like Molly was literally speaking my own thoughts out loud. So many random observations she made about little things had me going ‘YES, THIS!’, for example when she feels all awkward and anxious about two sets of people she knows from different places being at the same sleepover together. I have zero chill when it comes to situations like this either. I loved the way Molly’s anxiety was portrayed in this story so much; we saw her taking her medication, we saw her lying awake at night, thoughts churning round and round in her head, but we also saw Molly. Anxiety was not the only facet of her personality, and this book was not the story of her anxiety. I appreciated that so much. I find it so difficult to find representations of anxiety in books, unless the stories are specifically about anxiety. This one was realistic and relatable, and helped me connect with the idea that anxiety is not ALL there is to ME.

As well as being the fictional version of teenage me, Molly was hilarious and witty, and her narration made me laugh out loud so many times. It’s quite rare for books to ACTUALLY make me lol, so I bow down in worship to Becky Albertalli for making me continuously giggle throughout reading this book using words from her very own brain.

The romance in this book was super cute, and made me squeal, which is always the sign of a romantic storyline done well. I loved Reid (Will who?!), and I loved all of the dorky text messages full of in-jokes that he and Molly sent to each other. They reminded me of the messages me and my boyfriend send to each other; I always think that if anyone else were to read them, they’d think we were super-weird, but they make sense to us. Every scene containing Reid left me with a big sappy grin on my face (which was exactly my reaction to every Simon and Blue exchange in Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda). Becky Albertalli builds romantic tension SO WELL, and has a gift for creating fluffy, happy, squealy feelings in the hearts and tummies of her readers.

I think the thing this book did BEST of all was its portrayal of family dynamics. Nadine and Patty, Molly’s parents, were BRILLIANT. For starters, they actually acted like parents, and noticed/got angry when their children drank alcohol at a sleepover (because, HELLO other YA books; parents get mad about this shit in real life, y’know? Take heed!) Something else I loved about Nadine and Patty was how much personality they had, and how much a part of the story they were. I read so many YA books that are rendered unrealistic by their glaringly obvious parent-shaped holes, so thank you, Becky Albertalli, for recognising that parents are a massive part of our lives: they comfort us when we’re down, they tell us off when we mess up, and they make us laugh, daily. Molly’s parents provided a lot of humour in this story: Nadine in particular was hilarious, and I loved her obsession with ‘compound curse-words’. Badass, sweary parents are one of my favourite things to encounter in a piece of literature, tbh.

The relationship between Cassie and Molly was also very well done. I loved the way this book explored what happens when someone close to you gets into a new relationship, and the way it can make you feel left behind, even if you are happy for them. Molly and Cassie’s relationship was complex, well written, sad at times, but also pretty wonderful. The sibling storyline in this book was perhaps an even more important love story than the romance. Plus, Cassie was a FABULOUS character. She was feisty, and funny, and confident; she was selfish a times, but she was human, and felt like a real, relatable person. I loved her.

Finally, I just wanted to say that I loved that Becky Albertalli wrote such a diverse cast of characters in this book, all of whom felt like real people, with vibrant, memorable personalities. I loved that there were so many LGBT characters in this book, and I loved that the book was set around the time when gay marriage was legalised in America. This book was an awesome, rainbow-filled celebration of that, and the way this historic event affected the plot made me so happy; it was all kinds of adorable.

I feel like I have used the words ‘loved’ and ‘adored’ so much in this review, but I speak the truth. I LOVED AND ADORED this book, I have nothing but good things to say about it, and I really think you should pick it up ASAP, so you can feel as happy as I did whilst reading it.

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Currently reading: eleventy-million books

I’m not usually one of those people who reads multiple books at the same time: I’m more of a one book kinda gal. However, recently, as I’ve been feeling reading-slumpy, I’ve decided that the solution to beating said slump is to read a silly number of books at one time (okay, five, whatever…), and keep switching every time I find myself getting a little bit book-fatigued. Here are all of the books I’ve got on the go at the mo:


Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle

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In my last post I mentioned that I fell in love with Vendetta (the first book in the Blood for Blood trilogy, which is a YA mafia romance, and is a lot less trashy than it sounds.) Mafiosa is the third and final book in the series and is undoubtedly the book I’m enjoying most at the moment. I love all of the characters in this series, and although I don’t know any gangsters personally, the ones in these books feel pretty realistic to me. This book feels so much darker, and more dangerous, than the first, but it’s still full of feels, and I am swooning hard over Luca, the underboss of the Falcone mafia family, who I believe, deep down, just wants to be good.

*fans self*

*falls on floor*

*rip jess*


House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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This is definitely the most challenging book I’m reading at the moment, and because it is so ginormous, and majoratively written in the style of an academic text, I think it’s going to take me at least a month or two to finish it. This novel is about a man who finds an academic paper about a mysterious documentary that doesn’t exist. The documentary is supposedly about a house which is bigger on the inside than the outside (in a creepy, rather than cool, Tardis-like, way). This book is strange and scary, although it’s difficult to describe exactly WHY it’s so scary. The writing is unsettling and when I’m reading this I feel like I completely zone out of reality.

Parts of this book are hard to follow, because the writer of the paper likes to go off on nonsensical, rambling tangents about loosely related academic concepts, which jars the narrative on so many levels. But I love how unique this book is – every page looks different, there are footnotes all over the place, parts of the text are upside down or on their sides, the word ‘house’ is written in blue ink every time it appears, and there are all sorts of other weird and wonderful things like this throughout the book. I guess it’s a bit pretentious, being so “experimental”, and I’m still not quite sure what it all means, but I’m enjoying trying to wrap my awed mind around all the craziness.


Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

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This is a collection of short stories and poems by Neil Gaiman, and so far it’s quite a mixed bag. I’ve read two Neil Gaiman novels previously (Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane,) and was left a little bit underwhelmed by both of them. I liked them, but I didn’t love them. So far I’m not really loving this collection either. Don’t get me wrong, Gaiman is a GOOD writer, and his prose is beautiful, but the endings of most of the stories I’ve read so far have felt like anti-climaxes, and with some of those endings, I wasn’t really clear as to what had actually happened (which is frustrating, because I like to think of myself as a semi-intelligent human).

My favourite story in the collection so far has been one about a man searching for a cave on a mysterious island know as ‘The Misty Isle’. I love me a mysterious island, I really enjoyed the writing, and I felt like it had a powerful conclusion. But all of the other stories have been somewhat meh. I’m partially considering DNFing this book, but I don’t like doing that, so maybe I’ll press on and see if it becomes more my cup of tea in the second half.


The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

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I’ve been wanting to pick up this short story collection for a while, as I really enjoyed King’s novella collection – Four Past Midnight. Like with Trigger Warning, this collection is a mixed bag so far, although I would say I am enjoying it more than the Neil Gaiman book. The first story in the collection, about a car that eats people, sounds like it would be ridiculous, but was actually very enjoyable. Some of the subsequent stories have been pretty entertaining too, and King is certainly the master of the creepy ending, as well as being one hell of a good storyteller in general. The stories I have enjoyed less have been ones I wouldn’t really describe as horror. They weren’t bad stories, but I guess they just didn’t fit with my expectations of what King usually writes. I’m not very far through this book, so I can’t wait to get creeped out by some of the more traditional horror type stories King does so well, in later pages.


You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

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I got this book in my monthly ‘Buddy Box’ from The Blurt Foundation. The Buddy Box is a subscription box full of self-care goodies for people who suffer from depression, which you can take out a personal subscription to, or gift to somebody you know who is struggling. It’s such a lovely thing to receive every month, as the contents are always a surprise. This self-help book was a wonderful addition this month, and I am really enjoying reading this, because the author writes in a humorous, down-to-earth way which just makes me feel like she *gets* me, y’know?

I have to admit that some of the ideas are a little wishy-washy to me (there are mentions of ‘higher selves’ and ‘vibrations’ and ‘manifesting your desires’: concepts I encountered in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway aka the worst book I read in 2016, and which I personally don’t buy), but there are also plenty of chapters with useful, practical advice about boosting your self-esteem, forgiving other people, and forgiving yourself, which I’m finding very helpful. Every chapter ends with a list of things you can do to put the advice into practice, which for me makes it so easy to digest and remember. There is also a resounding message that ‘self-love’ is the most important thing of all, and that’s something I can’t help but dig. ❤


So that’s all of the books I’m currently reading! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read and loved/read and hated any of these books, and if you have any recommendations for similar books I might enjoy. Lots of love to you all, and hope you have a lovely weekend!

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Mini reviews of YA books

Hello everybody and a happy Tuesday to you! (I know, I know, it’s a stretch; Tuesdays suck only slightly less than Mondays…) Today I want to share with you some mini reviews for YA books that I have read over the past month or so. The first two I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d anticipated, but the third one I fell in love with. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books – I’d love to discuss them with you 😊


The Yellow Room by Jess Vallance

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When Anna receives a letter telling her that her father has died, she finds it hard to feel anything much. She hasn’t seen him for years and can barely remember him. She certainly has no interest in meeting the person who sent the letter: her dead father’s girlfriend, Edie. Anna has her own problems to deal with, including a secret she desperately needs to keep buried.

When Leon, a creepy boy from school, begins threatening to reveal Anna’s secret, Anna’s life starts spiralling out of control. With her own mother distracted and distant, she finds herself turning to the warm and eccentric Edie for support.

But what Anna doesn’t realise is that Edie has some secrets of her own.

My rating: 3 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. There were lots of things I LOVED about it; the characterisation was EXCELLENT, and although I was left a little bit underwhelmed by the plot, I still remember all of the characters and their quirks, because they were all so colourfully painted.

I enjoyed reading this book, but I felt disappointed with the last 30% or so. I LOVED the first half. The creepiness of some of the characters in this book was spot on. Leon, the boy who was blackmailing our main character, Anna, was the PERFECT villain. I just wanted to strangle him, he was so vile and condescending. The pacing and atmosphere of the first half was excellent too. But then…

I felt the final quarter of the book was RUSHED through. I had barely blinked and the book was over and all wrapped up. The tension building beforehand had been excellent, but the climax happened way too fast. I wasn’t left with unanswered questions, but I almost wish I had been, because everything seemed too neat, and was resolved far too quickly. I felt too much like I had been *told* the conclusion of a story, if that makes sense. Too many threads were tied up for it to seem real.

If I was rating the first half of the book alone, I would give this book 5 stars, but as a whole, I’ve gone for 3, because the resolution felt a little bit like a rapidly deflating balloon. I was left with a ‘meh’ feeling, which is a shame, because I had such high and floaty hopes at the beginning.


Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt

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Lexi Angelo has grown up helping her dad with his events business. She likes to stay behind the scenes, planning and organizing…until author Aidan Green – messy haired and annoyingly arrogant – arrives unannounced at the first event of the year. Then Lexi’s life is thrown into disarray.

In a flurry of late-night conversations, mixed messages and butterflies, Lexi discovers that some things can’t be planned. Things like falling in love…

My rating: 2 stars

I wanted so much to love this book, and I had SUCH high expectations. This book has been described as the British answer to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I mean, who wouldn’t have high expectations after such a statement? Sadly, this book is nothing like Fangirl, because Fangirl’s strength is in its characters, which just so happens to be this book’s weakness…

I loved the premise of this book, and as somebody who enjoys going to conventions, I felt it had been written especially for me. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as well executed as I’d hoped.

The protagonist of this book did not stand out for me, I felt like the side characters were all the same person, and I felt no chemistry whatsoever from the romance storyline. There was so much focus on the running of conventions that I didn’t get a feel for ANYONE’S personalities OUTSIDE of the fact that they ran conventions, and although the book was trying to make the point that Lexi (our main character) didn’t know who she was outside of conventions (because they had been her main focus/priority her entire life), all this did was make her come across as a bland character with nothing *more* to her than… well, conventions. I mean, there wasn’t even any mention of what Lexi was a fan of, besides the love interest’s book… As somebody whose entire life/personality is based around conventions, I at least expected more geekery from Lexi, and I was left disappointed.

There was also way too much telling instead of showing in this book. For example, we were told that Lexi struggled to do her school essays because she had so much work to do for her dad, but we never saw her struggling, and we never saw this negatively impacting her schoolwork. In fact, we never saw her at school full stop. There were barely any scenes outside of the conventions, and, as a result, it just felt a bit like Lexi didn’t exist when she wasn’t at a convention. Ugh, I have used the word conventions too many times in this review and now it doesn’t sound like a real word.


Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

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When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion next door, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nic, Sophie finds herself falling into an underworld governed by powerful families. When Sophie’s own family skeletons come to life, she must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

My rating: 4 stars

Finally, a book I wasn’t disappointed with! Oh, how I adored this book (despite it’s cringey cover!) I went to Waterstones a couple of weekends ago, specifically looking for some fluff. As somebody who loves dark books too, I got an awesome combination of fluff and darkness when I picked up this YA mafia romance.

This book was EXACTLY what I needed – it was romantic, thrilling, intriguing, contained many a bad boy, and had some awesome family drama too.

I also LOVED Catherine Doyle’s writing style – it flowed so nicely that I forgot I was reading a book. She created some brilliant characters, and they were all so easy to imagine because of their body language. Very few authors pull this off, but I LOVE it when a writer can make me imagine a living breathing person by doing an excellent job of describing their movements (i.e. how they walk, what they do with their hands, their facial expressions when nobody is looking, etc.). I believed the Falcone brothers were real people because of the way Catherine Doyle used their bodies and made them move around each scene; they leapt off the page for me.

Props to Catherine, also, for making Sophie a strong main character, who felt fear intensely, yet still fought back, and for making her best friend, Millie, a memorable, hilarious character, who wasn’t just a sidekick, but felt like a lead in her own right.

I read this book super-speedily because I loved it so much, I devoured the second book in the trilogy (which had SO many good twists), and I’m now whizzing through the third. Highly recommend if you’re in the mood for fluff with a dark-and-dangerous edge, containing hot Italian bad-boys you may or may not swoon over.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Hope you all have a week as lovely as your lovely selves. ❤

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Self-care tips for book bloggers

Hello, you lovely people, and a happy Friday to you!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been struggling with blogging recently, and with reading too. I’m feeling burned-out and tired, which prevents me from enjoying reading as much as I normally do, and as for blogging… that feels impossible.

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A lot of the way I’m feeling is due to my anxiety, but all of us can feel this way at times, regardless of mental health issues, because book-blogging, though we love it, can be stressful and overwhelming.

FOR EXAMPLE…

Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in a sea of ARCs, and, although ARCs are an honour and a privilege, drowning isn’t fun for anyone.

Sometimes we have a million things we WANT to read, but can’t, because of all the books we HAVE to read, so we spend hours staring at our shelves in a state of panic, not reading anything at all.

Sometimes, we don’t want to read, and we just want to watch Netflix, y’know?

All of these things make it pretty damn difficult to keep up with our blogs, and feel calm.

But, there are lots of little things we can do to help ourselves when we feel like we’re crumbling under this pressure.

Those little things are small, but vital, acts of self-care.

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As somebody who suffers from anxiety and depression, I have come to appreciate just how important self-care is when I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and exhausted. Self-care can be anything from scheduling time for relaxation, to saying ‘no’ to things when I’m not feeling well enough to do them.

But looking after yourself is important no matter what the state of your mental health might be. Putting yourself first is not selfish, it’s not weak, and your health is entirely more important than your blog, at the end of the day.

If you are finding book-blogging stressful and overwhelming in any way right now, here are some self-care tips (with a bookish/blogging slant) that you might find helpful. 😊


GIVE YOURELF TIME TO RELAX

Get into a blanket/onesie/cosy get-up of you choosing, surround yourself with snacks and beverages, turn off your phone, ignore your loved ones(!), and spend some quality time with a book. Reading a book just for fun – one that you have no intention of reviewing – removes all pressure from your reading experience.

If you decide, afterwards, that you want to review the book, you can, but go in telling yourself that this is for pure enjoyment, nothing more, and you’ll find the whole thing so much more relaxing.

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SAY NO

Learning to say no is extremely important if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is okay to put yourself, and your health, first.

It’s okay to say no to review requests, and if you have ALL THE ARCS stacked on top of you, Buckaroo stylee, however tempting it may be, DO NOT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, REQUEST ANY MORE. It’s extra pressure that you don’t need right now, and that book will be there waiting for you later down the line, once it has been released, and you actually have the time and energy to read it.

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STOP BUYING BOOKS

I know, I know, this sounds like sacrilege. But, similarly to being approved for a bunch of ARCs you don’t have the time or inclination to read, having lots of unread books on your shelf can be really overwhelming if you’re feeling low. And, if you’re buying more books every week, no matter how gloriously shiny their covers may be, you’re just adding to the problem.

Ban yourself from buying books, and focus on reading the ones you’ve got. If you don’t feel like reading any of them at the moment, do something else – it will be healthier for you to watch a bit of TV, or have a relaxing bath, than try to struggle through a book you’re not into, feeling increasingly guiltier about it with every page. And, if you want to treat yourself to a pick-me-up,  you can always spend your money on something other than a book; chocolate, wine, bubble bath, stationary… basically comforting things that you don’t have to read.

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So, if you find yourself drawn to a bookshop, wrench yourself away; you’ll feel far better about yourself, and your shelves, if you do.


DITCH THE NEW RELEASES

As book-bloggers, we constantly feel pressure to read the books that EVERYONE is talking about. But we don’t HAVE to read them RIGHT NOW if the pressure is getting to us. Those books don’t have a sell-by date. We’ll get to them when we’re ready.

Re-reading an old favourite book instead can be a real treat, and there is no pressure involved, because we don’t need to decide how we feel about the book, and what star rating to give it – we already know we adore it, and that it will do our mental health the world of good.

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DO A BOOK TAG

Book tags are fun, and approx. a million times less pressurised than writing a book review where you have to analyse the crap out of everything.

If book tags are too much for you right now, that’s absolutely fine, but if you sit down and give one a go, just for fun, you might find yourself getting back into the swing of things.

Plus, book tags generally contain more gif-usage and more fangirling than reviews, both of which are highly efficient at boosting your endorphin levels. FACT.

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DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP

This is easier said than done – I beat myself up constantly – but remind yourself that NOBODY IS JUDGING YOU EXCEPT FOR YOURSELF. Nobody is looking at your blog and thinking ‘what a failure, she never posts anymore, compared to I, superwoman, who whacks out a post every day of the week.’

Superwoman is too busy doing Superwoman to notice, so you just do you… whatever you have to offer is enough for now, and makes you Superwoman/man in my eyes.

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HAVE A BREAK

Take a hiatus if you need one. You can announce it, if that makes you feel more comfortable, but if you don’t want to, there is no shame in going off-road for a while, without telling anyone. YOU DO NOT NEED TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

The blogging community isn’t going anywhere, and you will not be forgotten, but if you’re worried about disappearing, you can always keep in contact with everyone by liking or commenting on their posts (which is a lot easier than writing your own when you’re feeling burned out.)

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LOOK AFTER YOURSELF IN GENERAL

This is not related to books or blogging, but if you are feeling low, basic things can feel impossible, let alone keeping up with a hobby. Eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, getting some exercise, and breathing fresh air are all vital, and do as much good for your mental health as they do your physical health.

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I hope these tips have been helpful, and that some of them work for you! 😊 Do you have any self-care tips for when you’re feeling overwhelmed? I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend filled with books and cake!

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The Ben & Jerry’s Book Tag

Hi everyone! Sorry for my (unannounced) hiatus of approx three weeks. I’ve missed you all lots, and hope your days since we last spoke have been filled with good books, snuggly blankets, and gigantic tubs of ice-cream. You deserve those things! ❤

I’m struggling to keep up with blogging (and reading) at the moment due to good old anxiety, so I’m not going to make any promises about posting more regularly this month… But for now, I thought I’d do a book tag, because book tags are fun, and I haven’t done a single one so far in 2017.

I was tagged for this one by The Orangutan Librarian, and I’m ashamed to say this was actually over a year ago! Better late than never, I guess 😊 Please go check out her fantastic blog immediately – she’s one of my favourite book bloggers, and if you’re not already following her, you are very silly 😝


 VANILLA CARAMEL FUDGE: PICK A LIGHT, FLUFFY CONTEMPORARY

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I’ve loved all of Stephanie’s books, but Anna was by far my favourite. I loved the Paris setting (Paris being one of my favourite places on this planet we call Earth), I loved Anna (because she was dorky and funny and relatable), and I loved Etienne (because I couldn’t help but make swoony eyes whenever he appeared on the page).


MINT CHOCOLATE COOKIE: A NEW RELEASE THAT YOU WISH EVERYBODY WOULD READ

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Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney. I just finished reading this book, and I could NOT put it down. I have been getting a bit bored with psych thrillers recently because they’re all so samey and predictable, but this one surprised me, and had some very interesting, very screwed up, characters. It’s narrated by a woman in a coma, so it also has a creepy, claustrophobic feel, which made the reading experience unbearably tense, in the best possible way. And, most importantly, I DID NOT PREDICT THE ENDING.


CHERRY GARCIA: AN ENDING THAT WAS BITTERSWEET

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. There’s an overwhelming feeling of triumph, but an undercurrent of loss. I knew not everyone would make it out alive, but some of those deaths still SLAY me today.


STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE: A BOOK CONTAINING YOUR OTP OF OTPS

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It’s a toss up between City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (because I just can’t with all my fluffy Malec feels) and Carry On (because I also have pretty intense Simon and Baz feels). #dilemma


MILK AND COOKIES: TWO AUTHORS THAT IF THEY COLLABORATED, THEY WOULD GO PERFECTLY TOGETHER

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Sara Barnard and Holly Bourne. These ladies are two of my favourite UKYA authors, and both prioritise female friendship over romance in their books, which I think is just FABULOUS. Both have also written about characters with anxiety issues, which is something I relate to, too hard, and both did so in realistic, poignant, yet often humorous ways. I think these two authors would write a wonderful collaboration, filled with smart, funny, and extremely relatable young women.


BOSTON CREAM PIE: A BOOK THAT HAD YOU TURNING YOUR PAGES LATE INTO THE NIGHT

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The Magpies by Mark Edwards. This was the first thriller I ever read, and I remember finishing it in a single sitting. It’s about a couple who move into a new flat, and start getting harassed by their next-door neighbours. The harassment gets worse and worse, creepier and creepier, and, let’s just say, there’s a scene involving spiders mid-way through the book that legit gave me nightmares. So many thrillers fail to be SCARY, but this one nailed it. I highly recommend all of Mark Edwards’ books. He always has such original concepts, which stand out in the overcrowded thriller market.


CHOCOLATE THERAPY: A BOOK THAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER AFTER A LONG DAY OF LIFE

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. This book only came out in 2015, but I’ve already read it several times. It’s my go-to book when I’ve had a rubbish day because Simon and Blue’s adorable romance never fails to make me feel all happy and fluffy inside.


COFFEE, COFFEE, BUZZBUZZBUZZ!: A BOOK NOT YET RELEASED THAT YOU CAN’T WAIT TO GET YOUR HANDS ON

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Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. I absolutely adore all of Cassandra Clare’s books, and Lady Midnight last year was no exception. I’m so excited to read the sequel – I picked up a free sample of the first chapter in Waterstones the other day, and I may or may not have squealed. I’m planning on re-reading Lady Midnight over the next month in preparation. I’m so excited for more Emma and Julian, more cameos from Malec (pretty please?), but mainly more Mark Blackthorn. #swoon


I’m not going to tag anybody, because, as I mentioned, this tag has been floating around in my shameful list of tags-I-haven’t-done-because-I-suck for over a year. However, if you feel so inclined, feel free to give this tag a go, and link me to your answers, so I can find bookish inspiration, and spend further time fantasizing about ice-cream. ❤

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Psychological thriller: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land (ARC book review)

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Good Me Bad Me. Ali Land. Michael Joseph. January 2017.

‘NEW NAME .
NEW FAMILY.
SHINY.
NEW.
ME.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer.

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me.

She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…


Thank you to Netgalley and Michael Joseph for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warning: child abuse, self harm

You know the sick-to-the-stomach feeling you get when you read about some really horrific crime in the newspaper? This is the feeling I had all the way through reading this book.. It was a very uncomfortable reading experience, and whilst I cannot deny that it is a good book (I rated it 4 stars), I’m not sure ‘enjoyed’ would be an accurate way to describe how I felt about it.

When I requested this book, I had no idea that it had anything to do with child abuse. It turns out, the entire plot revolves around it! The blurb doesn’t mention the fact that the serial killer mum’s victims are all children, and I have to admit, I probably would not have requested the book if I had known. However, I’m glad I left my comfort zone and gave this book a go, because these things do happen in real life, and the stories of those victims do need to be told. This book, in my opinion, does an excellent job of portraying them (although of course, having never experienced abuse myself, I cannot testify as to whether this is a truthful and accurate representation.)

This was a very well written book. A real strength of the writing was that the descriptions of abuse and violence were never gratuitous – things are always implied, rather than painted explicitly, but these parts were always so cleverly done that I knew EXACTLY what was being implied every time, and the pictures my imagination conjured up were horrific enough.

The narrator of this book – Annie (or Milly, as she is renamed when she moves in with her foster family) – was such a psychologically complex character. I think Ali Land did a fabulous job of portraying a survivor of child abuse, and the confused, conflicting emotions she battles with daily – her disgust and fear over what her mum has done, as well as the love she stills feels for her mum, and her deep-seated need to defend her, impress her, and become the person she raised her to be.

I think the most interesting thing about this book was the way it explored how our upbringing can damage us – how we learn from the examples we are set, and the boundaries we are given. I found a lot of Milly’s behaviour in this book very worrying; I felt she was missing certain qualities, such as empathy, that she might have developed if only she’d come from a stable and loving home, and she had no clue about boundaries when it came to her interactions with other people. It was disturbing to see the way her brain worked, yet, at the same time, terribly sad.  I was rooting for Milly, but, at the same time, praying someone would stop her before she went too far.

This book isn’t action packed, and it isn’t full of twists and turns, but I couldn’t put it down, because it was so interesting to see the way Milly’s character developed as her mother’s trial date loomed nearer. Although Milly’s mother is physically absent from Milly’s life, because she’s in prison, she is a huge, domineering presence in the story, and Milly remains under her manipulative influence; her mother is present in her every thought and action. The way Milly interacted with her mother in her head was one of the most fascinating aspects of the story, and the way this relationship was portrayed was very powerful.

The ending of this book didn’t shock me, because I saw it coming, but I did find it unsettling, and that’s something I appreciate in a psychological thriller. I was, however, left with a rather desolate feeling, which I experienced pretty relentlessly throughout the rest of the book as well. I had to reach for something light and fluffy as soon as I had finished it!

If you like books with complex characters and complex relationships, which leave you feeling all kinds of disturbed, I highly recommend this book. It’s a well-crafted story, and even though it made me feel pretty sick at some of the things that happen in this world, I’m still glad I had the opportunity to read it, as it was so well executed.

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Another book haul because Jess has no willpower at all…

At the start of the year, I made a vow to myself that, until I had read some of the books I already owned, I would resist buying any more books, apart from a select list of new releases I would ‘allow’ myself to pick up throughout the year.

This book haul contains eleven books, and only three of them were on the aforementioned list…

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I think it’s fair to say I have no will power at all when it comes to buying books. But in my defence, I’m a book blogger; it’s in our blood.

Here are all the books I hauled in January and February:


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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This book was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017, and I’m delighted to say that it has been MY FAVOURITE BOOK OF THE YEAR SO FAR. You can read my review here. Spoiler alert: contains gushing.


Slade House by David Mitchell

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I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, as I love literary horror, and I’ve heard great things about David Mitchell’s writing. This novel is about a house where, every nine years, something very-sinister-indeed takes place. I’m so excited to find out what that sinister something is.


After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

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I picked this book up because it has a really cool and creepy concept: it’s about a man who stumbles upon an old house when his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and, when he goes to seek help from the residents of said house, discovers that they all know his name, and have been waiting for him to turn up for a very long time. #creepy

Sarah Perry won the Waterstones Book of the Year with her latest novel, The Essex Serpent, so I’m expecting excellent things from the writing too.


A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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I hunted everywhere for this book because one of my favourite booktubers, Katie at Chapterstackss, really enjoyed this one. This book is about a family who find themselves the focus of a reality TV show called The Possession when their local priest advises them that their fourteen-year-old daughter has become the victim of a demonic possession. This book sounds SO interesting!

As an aside, if you enjoy horror novels and need recommendations, check out Katie’s channel, because she is a fountain of wisdom when it comes to this genre.


Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt

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I discovered this book when I was browsing in the Waterstones YA section, and it sounds PERFECT. The main character is a girl whose dad owns an events business, and who has grown up helping out at SciFi/Fantasy conventions. The love interest is a ‘messy haired and annoyingly arrogant’ author. If this book lives up to my expectations, I am going to fall all kinds of in love with it.


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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This book is SO BEAUTIFUL. I wanted to read it anyway because it’s set in a snowy landscape (which is something I adore in a book), it’s based around Russian folklore (intriguing), and according to the blurb, it contains a creepy forest (I cannot resist a creepy forest). When I saw the glorious cover, however, it leapt from a want-to-read to MUST-read!


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

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I have been meaning to read this book for the longest time. I LOVE magical realism, and so many people whose bookish opinions I respect have enjoyed this one. I’ve also heard that the writing is beautiful, and there is an element of creepiness… SOLD.


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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This book is about the diary of a Japanese girl that washes ashore on a beach in Canada, and the impact the diary has on the woman who finds it. This concept is really fascinating to me, and I’ve wanted to read this book for years, as I remember being impressed by the first few pages when I picked it up in a bookshop many moons ago. It was nominated for the Mann Booker Prize at the time, too, so I feel very intellectual having bought it, tbh.


History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Adam Silvera’s new book was, of course, on my list of new releases I am ‘allowed’ to buy this year! I was blown away by his debut novel, More Happy Than Not, and I’ve heard this one packs just as big an emotional punch. I have extremely high expectations for this book!


Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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CW at Read Think Ponder wrote a fantastic review for this book, and it has been on my TBR ever since. This is a supernatural horror set in a small town, and sounds like it explores some interesting themes too. I love it when a horror novel has so much more to it than simple shocks and scares, so I’m really excited to read this one!


My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

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Sophie Kinsella is one of my favourite authors, if not my FAVOURITE author of all time, and I own every single one of her books; this was always going to be an auto-buy for me. What I love about Sophie’s books is that they are light-hearted, but they are done so well. She doesn’t just churn out bland, samey rubbish like some authors in her genre – her characterisation is always excellent and her writing is hilarious. Her books never fail to make me smile, and are perfect for when I need some cheering up.


So, that’s it for my January/February haul. I would say that you might not see one next month, because I’m going to try and exercise some restraint, but that would probably be a BIG, FAT LIE.

Have you read any of these books? Which books did you pick up this month? I’d love to hear from you!

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All the reasons you must, must, MUST read ‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber

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Caraval. Stephanie Garber. Hodder and Stoughton. January 2017.

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.


Whatever you’ve heard about this book, it doesn’t compare to the reality: Caraval completely blew me away, and is without a doubt my favourite read of the year so far! I’m as wary of hyped books as the next person, but I promise you, this time, the hype is justified.

I was always destined to rate Caraval 5 stars because it contains all of things I find irresistible in a book: a unique concept, a mysterious island, a strong sibling bond, a sprinkle of magic on every page, and the strange and sinister atmosphere of a nightmare that could easily real. I loved everything about this book, and I’ll almost certainly re-read it before the end of the year.

The writing in Caraval is so luscious and atmospheric. It manages to be beautiful without being flowery, simply by building a vivid picture out of all the small, enchanting details each sentence is loaded with. This is a quality book. Reading it feels like tucking into the most decadent, indulgent dessert you can imagine, built with layer upon layer of wicked, chocolatey deliciousness. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to curl up in a blanket with and read as slowly as you can, savouring every line.

As well as the gorgeous writing, Caraval is full of mystery, and I was forming new theories about how everything was connected with every page. Caraval isn’t a predictable book in any way – it’s a book where you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re excited to find out, because literally anything could. The storytelling was fabulous; there was something interesting happening on every page, and nearly every chapter ended on a cliffhanger. There was no point at which the story dragged, and I never once got distracted by how many pages or chapters I had left to go – I wanted this book to go on forever. I was also thrilled that the book got darker as the storyline unfolded, and I loved the way Caraval developed from something light and magical into something intense and sinister that I felt Scarlett needed to get the hell away from asap.

By far the most fascinating aspect of this book was the game of Caraval itself. I loved the fact that I was never quite sure what was real and what was an illusion. I loved that things felt dangerous, even when on the surface they seemed glossy and too-good-to-be-true. I loved that I couldn’t trust ANYONE that Scarlett met, or spent time with, on the island where Caraval took place. I also LOVED all of the imaginative detail that went into building the world of the game. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I don’t want to spoil anything; it will be far more magical if you discover it all for yourself.

I absolutely adored the mystery of Legend: Who was the man behind the game? What were his motives? Had we met him during the course of the game? What kind of disguise was he wearing? There were so many layers to Legend’s character, as well as every other character within the novel. Nobody was what they seemed, and just when I thought I’d got somebody figured out, the novel would have yet another trick hidden up its sleeve, and my head would be left reeling.

One of my absolute favourite things about this novel was the bond between Scarlett and Tella. These sisters were completely different, yet devoted to one another. I loved their fierce protectiveness of each other, forged during a dangerous childhood spent trying to survive the twisted, abusive games their father played with them. Both of their characters leapt off the page for me. I definitely related to Scarlett the most – she was reserved, uptight, and cautious, yet driven by loyalty and love. Tella was the more reckless, whirlwind type, but she also had her sister’s best interests at heart in everything she did.

All in all, this book was spellbinding, mesmerising, and I could probably fill several more paragraphs with praiseful adjectives like these ones. I was, quite simply, obsessed with this book, and it’s already a strong contender for my favourite book of the year. The epilogue of this book has me desperately hoping there will be a sequel, because it presents yet another mystery I’m dying to unravel. I need more Caraval in my life, like yesterday.

In conclusion: Caraval lives up to the hype in every way, and you must, must, MUST read it immediately.

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What I’ve been reading: some mini reviews!

Hihihi everybody and a happy Friday to you! Hope you’re all having a smashing one. I’ve been super busy recently, and I haven’t had time to fully review all of the books I’ve wanted to, so I thought I’d bring you some mini reviews today instead. Here goes…


Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

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My rating: 3.5 stars

(Read the blurb here.)

Heart Shaped Bruise was the first book I read this year, and it was an intriguing, character driven story. I was expecting this book to be more of a psychological thriller, but really I’d describe it as a character study, because it’s not action-packed. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining, though! The story follows a girl named Emily who is serving time in the psychiatric wing of a young offender’s institute. In a loose diary format, she relates the story of how she came to commit her offence.

Emily made this story, because she was such a psychologically fascinating, complex character. Emily has done something pretty awful (although we don’t find out straight away the nature of her crime), and she has shown a complete lack of remorse for her actions. Despite this, I liked Emily, because her narrative was so compelling that I felt I was on her side, even when I couldn’t morally agree with her twisted actions. I felt her hurt, and her desperate desire for revenge, and somehow, I couldn’t condemn her.

This book really made me think about crime, and our tendency to judge those who commit it by the crime alone. Something which was really interesting about this book was that, apart from Emily’s, we don’t learn the crimes of any of the girls staying in the institute. We are forced, instead, to form opinions of them based on everything but the things they have done wrong.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a story with complex, gritty characterisation! Emily is a character I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.


Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

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My rating: 4.5 stars

(Read the blurb here.)

I read this book when I was in need of something light-hearted and entertaining, and it delivered and then some. I’d never read a book with a Muslim protagonist before, but if you are looking for an own voices book with Muslim representation, I highly recommend this one.

This book has been described as the ‘Muslim Bridget Jones’, because it’s written in diary format, and is about a woman in her thirties navigating the dating scene (and hiding a smoking habit from a family who desperately want her to get married!) Sofia isn’t much like Bridget aside from this, though she now has just as big a place in my heart. She’s stubborn, sometimes prickly (but in a loveable way), and is often treated satirically, as she’s not always aware of how amusing her behaviour is. I loved all of the side characters in this book, and Sofia’s observations, particularly about her family and their chaotic dynamics, constantly had me giggling.

I didn’t know anything about the Muslim dating scene before reading this book, but I really enjoyed the humorous way Ayisha Malik depicted it, and Sofia certainly meets some interesting characters along the way! My prediction about who Sofia would end up with turned out to be wrong, which almost never happens to me in contemporary romance books, so I was pleasantly surprised, although I was a tiny bit disappointed that my initial ship in this book did not sail. I still loved the ending though. There’s supposed to be a sequel coming out this year and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I cannot recommend this one enough if you’re looking for a book to make you smile.


A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

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My rating: 4.5 stars

(Read the blurb here.)

I absolutely adored this book! I related so much to Steffi, who has anxiety, and there were times when I felt like she was reading the thoughts directly out of my head. My anxiety is in no way as severe as Steffi’s, and my anxiety has nothing to do with speaking (whereas Steffi has been a selective mute for a large part of her life), but her thought processes were so familiar to me, and it was so great to see this kind of representation in a book.

This book is a contemporary romance, and Rhys, the boy Steffi ends up falling for, was a fantastic character too. Rhys was deaf, and I think this may be the first time I’ve read a book with a deaf character, so it really opened my eyes to a lot of things I’d never thought about before, and gave me the opportunity to look at the world from a completely different perspective. The romance was very sweet, gave me lots of fluffy feelings, and most importantly of all, did not miraculously cure Steffi’s mental illness. Although I didn’t always feel overwhelmed by the chemistry, the romance was such a healthy, realistic one, and really demonstrated the fact that there are things far more important than chemistry.

Alongside the romance, friendship played just as important a part, and I LOVED Steffi’s friendship with Tem, perhaps even more so than her romance with Rhys. This book gave such an honest portrayal of friendship, with all of the ups and downs it can go through; it made no secret of the fact that falling out with a friend can hurt just as much, if not more, than falling out with a boyfriend, and that making things right with someone who has been by your side since day one should always be your priority.

I know it’s early days, but I’m fairly certain this book will make it into my top ten of 2017.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? I hope you all have wonderful weekends full of books, tea, and napping (because those are clearly the best kind.) 🙂

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YA Horror: ‘Fir’ by Sharon Gosling (ARC Book Review)

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Fir. Sharon Gosling. Stripes Publishing. Release date: 9th February 2017.

Moving from Stockholm to an isolated pine plantation in northern Sweden is bad enough, but when the snows come early and all links between the Strombergs and the outside world are cut off, it gets worse.

With only a grudging housekeeper and increasingly withdrawn parents for company, there is nothing to do but to explore the old plantation house. Anything to stay out of the endless pine trees pressing in on them.

But soon it becomes clear that the danger within the old plantation house is even greater than what lies outside…


Thank you to Netgalley and Stripes Publishing for providing me with a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I love the Red Eye range of YA horror books from Stripes Publishing (my favourite being Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell) so when a new book from the range popped up on Netgalley, I knew I had to request it, immediately!

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I was really torn over how to rate it. I ended up opting for 3 stars, because, whilst there were a lot of things I liked about the book, I was left with the feeling that something was missing.

First of all, let’s talk about the good stuff! This book contained so many of my favourite tropes from the horror genre: an isolated house, a sinister forest, unnerving characters, creepy children, and a multitude of mysteries. The setting and atmosphere within this book were extremely well executed, and the descriptions made me feel like I was right there, alone in that weird, silent forest, with only the ancient trees for company.

Despite the atmospheric writing, I felt quite disconnected from the main character. I can only call her the main character in this review, because we never find out her name. I had trouble getting to know her because, as well as lacking a name to ground her in some kind of reality, I discovered very little about her throughout the course of the story. She didn’t seem to have any hobbies, there was a brief mention of some friends at the beginning of the novel, but they weren’t mentioned again, and she spent a lot of time exploring her new home alone, rather than conversing with other characters.

The main character did have personality; it just wasn’t a strong one which jumped off the page. I wasn’t her biggest fan to begin with, because she started off being extremely whiney. I can understand that she wasn’t too thrilled about being forced to move to the back of beyond (and I’m sure I would have had the same stroppy reaction at her age), but I found her whining a bit grating; it reminded me of Bella Swan when she first moves to Forks, before she discovers the sparkly vampires… However, the main character definitely grew on me; as the story progressed, she developed into somebody much more mature and capable, when thrown into situations where she needed to be.

One character I did find very interesting was Dorothea, the housekeeper. The Stromberg family inherit her when they move to the plantation, as she has been in service there for many years. Dorothea was rude, deliberately difficult and uncooperative, and was described as having a ‘scuttling’ walk, which I have to admit made her all kinds of creepy to me. If you’ve ever read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Dorothea will give you serious Mrs. Danvers vibes… she was always lurking around every corner, and trying to make the family feel unwelcome in their own home, and I was constantly curious to know just what she was up to.

My favourite thing about this novel was probably the use of mythology. I can’t say much more about this, as I don’t want to wander into spoiler territory, but I loved the way that mythology was tied into the horror, and examined against the other possibility… that all the creepy things happening were simply hallucinations brought on by the isolation.

I was certainly invested in the mysteries of the story, and I enjoyed sneaking around and exploring with the main character, as she made sinister discovery after sinister discovery. I get a buzz out of that kinda thang! Despite enjoying how the mystery unfolded, I was left frustrated by the ending. I did get answers to the questions I’d had throughout the book, but what happens at the end threw a curveball, and I was actually pretty confused about what had happened. I sometimes enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I’m not sure this one was needed… unless it was a set-up for a sequel!

All in all, I found this novel entertaining, and definitely creepy in places, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d had a better connection with the main character, and if the ending had been clearer. However, if you’re new to the horror genre, I think Fir could be a fun place to start.

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