The Mud and Stars Book Blog

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

Book Review: ‘Sunflowers in February’ by Phyllida Shrimpton

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Sunflowers in February. Phyllida Shrimpton. Hot Key Books. February 2018.

Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. 

She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. And very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance, arrive and she sees her own body that she realises that she is in fact . . . dead. 

But what is she supposed do now? 

Lily has no option but to follow her body and sees her family – her parents and her twin brother – start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity – to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time . . .


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending me a review copy of this book. My first ever physical book I have received from a publisher – I was so, so happy, and so, so grateful!

I was really intrigued to read this book because the premise really appealed to me. The story follows Lily, a fifteen year old girl who is killed in a hit and run accident. Instead of passing on, her spirit sticks around, and she can see everything her family and friends are going through in the wake of her death. But nobody seems to be able to see or hear her, apart from her twin brother Ben. Lily is desperate to live just a little bit more, so Ben agrees to let her use his body for a while, until she is ready to say goodbye to life and move on to whatever comes next.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, but it never really blew me away. I found all of Lily’s thought processes as she watches her family grieve very interesting. It’s almost as though she wants them to stay sad, and to not forget about her, which although sounds selfish, actually came across as very human to me. I also liked seeing Lily use Ben’s body to experience all of the everyday things like eating sweets and having a hot shower that she took for granted in life and misses. I appreciated the mindful way that Lily navigated the world once she knew that she only had a limited time left in it. I feel like we should all live our days this way, no matter how long we have left.

Another thing I found very interesting about the book are the perspectives we get from other characters as they react to Lily’s death, but in particular the perspective of the driver who hit her. We find out very early on who that is, although I am not going to spoil anything here. The grief of the driver, and their subsequent breakdown was done so well, and although they did wrong, I ended up feeling so sorry for this person, because their perspective was just heartbreaking to read.

What I didn’t love so much about this book was the characterisation. I didn’t feel like any of the characters really stood apart from each other. Even Lily herself was hard to fully connect to, because I never really got a sense of who she was in life, besides the fact that she liked sunflowers (which play a prominent part in her funeral). I understood how Lily felt about being robbed of her life, and I empathised with her realisations about all the things she took for granted whilst she was alive, but I had no idea who she was before she felt these things, before she died. I guess I could have done with more flashbacks, or at least memories tied in with what she was experiencing in the present.

The other thing I found a little lacking in this book was the plot. Like I said, I really enjoyed the concept, and seeing how Lily reacts to the situation she’s in, but beyond that I feel like not much happens in the book, and it did get a bit repetitive at times, as Lily spends a lot of time just doing normal things in Ben’s body.

Something I have mixed feelings about in this book is what it has to say about gender. Lily is using Ben’s body, so obviously she is a girl in a boy’s body, and it was interesting to see how this makes her feel, and see her empathising with how someone who is born into the wrong body might feel. However, where it went wrong for me is when we see Ben’s friends reacting to how he is acting (differently, obviously, because it’s Lily in there, not Ben). Lily has to play a football match in Ben’s body, and as someone who has never played before, she is naturally not very good at it. Fair enough in principle, but I feel like so much emphasis was put on the fact that Lily couldn’t do certain things because she was a girl, and Ben’s friends didn’t hesitate to point out how ‘girly’ ‘he’ was acting, which didn’t sit well with me. Also, when ‘Ben’ touches his friend’s arm, his friend questions why his friend has turned into an ‘overnight gay’. Maybe that’s how some straight teenage boys would react, I don’t know, but I just felt like using homophobia to illustrate that Ben was acting differently was unnecessary.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, and I felt like it explored some interesting thoughts and feelings on grief, however I didn’t fall in love with it the way I had hoped I would. It’s not a bad book by any means, it just had a few problems. I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and this is a debut, so I’ll certainly look out for further books she writes in the future.

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ARC Book Review: ‘Scream All Night’ by Derek Milman

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Scream All Night. Derek Milman. Harperteen. Release date: 24th July 2018.

DARIO HEYWARD KNOWS ONE THING. He’s never going back to Moldavia Studios, the iconic castle that served as the set, studio, and home to the cast and crew of dozens of cult classic B-horror movies. It’s been three years since Dario’s even seen the place, after getting legally emancipated from his father, the infamous director of Moldavia’s creature features.

But then Dario’s brother invites him home to a mysterious ceremony involving his father and a tribute to his first film–The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue. Dario swears his homecoming will be a one-time visit. A way for him to get closure on his past–and reunite with Hayley, his first love and costar of Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, a production fraught with real-life tragedy–and say good-bye for good. But the unthinkable happens–Dario gets sucked back into the twisted world of Moldavia and the horrors, both real and imagined, he’s left there.

With only months to rescue the sinking studio and everyone who has built their lives there, Dario must confront the demons of his past–and the uncertainties of his future. But can he escape the place that’s haunted him his whole life?


Thank you to Harperteen for providing with a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Scream All Night is one of the most original YA contemporaries I have ever read. I really didn’t know what to expect going into this novel; for some reason, all the references to paranormal horror in the blurb had me thinking there were going to be paranormal elements to the story, and that they were going to be super-cheesy. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The categorisation of this novel as dark comedy works pretty well for me, because the writing finds humour in unexpected places, yet balances this humour with its darker exploration of abuse and neglect, which hit me hard with feelings.

The setting of this novel was so unique and like nothing I have come across in fiction. Moldavia Castle, Dario’s childhood home, and the home of his father’s movie studio, felt like a character in its own right. I loved meeting all of the quirky characters who lived there, exploring all of the atmospheric rooms where set-pieces were built, and reading about all of the weird and wonderful costumes and props used in the productions. I loved hearing about the stories of each of the movies the studio made, and what was going in real life behind the scenes (though some of it was extremely emotional and hard to read).

All of the cast and crew living and working at Moldavia felt like one great big complicated family, and so many interesting relationships were explored in this story. I liked that the movie studio acted as a home for so many people; they were all misfits who had found a place they truly belonged in Moldavia. In contrast, it was interesting to see Dario struggling to decide if he really did belong there.

The thing I loved most about this novel was the characterisation. Dario, our protagonist, felt so real to me, and reading about everything he went through at the hands of his father made me really hurt for him. I’ve never read a story where a character has been emancipated from their family, and it was both interesting and heartbreaking to learn about how Dario ended up in that situation. Dario goes on a complicated emotional journey as he returns to Moldavia, and I think his conflicting feelings of loyalty to the people he loves, but fearfulness of the past they force him to confront, were written very well.

I also loved Dario’s narration, because there was so much comedy in his depiction of the people surrounding him. I felt that, through Dario, Derek Milman achieved the perfect balance between mocking his characters and making us feel wholeheartedly for them. The character he does this best with is Oren, Dario’s older brother. Oren is, to be honest, a massive douche for most of the book, and for a long time he reads like an object of pure satire. He’s intent on producing a film he has written about a demonically possessed patch of cauliflowers (‘The Ciller Cauliflowers’, and yes spelling Killer with a C is deliberate), but nobody can convince him it’s a terrible idea, because he only hears what he wants to hear. The glimpses we get to read of the script are laugh out loud hilarious, and they made me almost love Oren, even when he was being a selfish asshole. However, the further we go into Dario’s story, the more vulnerability Oren reveals to us, and we get to know him on a level I never expected, as Dario does. I loved the development of this sibling relationship, which starts off on extremely rocky, resentful ground.

There is a romance in the novel, and it was sweet, but it wasn’t my favourite aspect of the story. Because Hayley is supposed to be Dario’s first love, we don’t get much build up to their relationship. It just kind of picks up where it left off when Dario left Moldavia, so we don’t get a sense of when and how they fell in love; it feels more like it has always been this way. I didn’t totally buy into their romantic feelings for each other, although I did get a sense of closeness and a family kind of love, and I think their relationship could have easily been portrayed as a strong, close friendship and had the same impact.

All in all, I found this novel entertaining, and emotionally gripping, and I couldn’t help but root for Dario to find his path forward. If you want a book with funny but complex characters, which explores complicated family relationships, in a unique and interesting setting (and why wouldn’t you want that?!), I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.

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Books I read on my hiatus (Part 2)

Hello everybody! Hope you’ve all had lovely sunny Sundays. Last weekend I posted some mini reviews of books I read whilst I was on a blogging break. As there were lots of books I wanted to talk about, I decided to split my wrap-up into two parts. You can find Part 1 here. And now for Part 2…


The Girls by Emma Cline

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Rating: 2.5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I read it compulsively, and found the writing beautiful, evocative, dark, and seductive. One the other hand, some of the content was VERY uncomfortable to read, and as such, I can’t bring myself to say I ‘enjoyed’ it. I guess I should have expected this, given that the book tells the story of a 14 year old girl who becomes involved with a Manson Family type cult. Drugs, sex, brutal murder. I knew this book would be dark, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so sexually explicit. I’m not saying this prudishly, but rather because these scenes involve an actual child, and I couldn’t help but feel nauseous the whole time I was reading them. I guess that was the point though. This book is meant to unsettle you deeply, and it certainly achieves that. It left me feeling queasy, depressed, a little bit dirty. It’s a good book, but I didn’t like it, if that makes sense.


Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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Rating: 5 stars

I ADORED THIS BOOK! I think I am just destined to love anything that Becky Albertalli writes. Her writing is so accessible, funny, down to earth, and relatable. I can’t say loads about the plot of the book, because I feel it might spoil Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which you definitely need to read first. I LOVED being back with all of those characters. Leah wasn’t my favourite in Simon – I found her negative and snarky – but having been inside her head in this book, I now feel I understand her completely and love her just as much as the others. In a lot of ways she reminded me of myself as a teenager, acting in certain ways, but regretting them instantly inside my head. She was so much more relatable than I originally imagined her to be. My favourite thing about this book was the adorable and utterly shippable LGBT romance between Leah and a certain character; I can’t say who because it’s not something you know from the beginning of the book (although I kind of guessed/hoped and ended up being right). Becky Albertalli writes romance so perfectly, and it always leaves me with the warm fuzzies. My only small complaint about this book is that the ending felt a bit rushed. I thought there was going to be some fallout or at least some kind of reaction scene to something that happens, but instead of showing that, the book jumps straight to an epilogue. Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me enough to prevent me from rating this book 5 stars. In a nutshell, Becky’s books just make me ridiculously happy, and I love her. I can’t wait to read her next book!


Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

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Rating: 4 stars

This book was so much fun! It follows a plus-size, body positive 16 year old girl named Bluebelle, who is asked by her doctor to keep a food diary after being informed she is overweight. I loved that Bluebelle had such a positive attitude to her body, a healthy love for herself we almost never see in teenage characters. I like that she didn’t care that she was fat, that other things were far more important to her. And I loved the way she cared so much about food. For her, eating wasn’t about greed, but about respect for amazing ingredients and flavours. Every chapter of this book was centred around a particular type of food, and Bluebelle’s descriptions of the things she cooked and ate made my mouth water and my stomach rumble. The reason I didn’t give this book a full five stars is that I didn’t always feel like Bluebelle was a real person; she had such positive views I couldn’t help but nod along with, but sometimes it felt like she was just a vehicle for the author to express those views. Sometimes it felt like there wasn’t much to her character outside of those opinions, that she wasn’t fully developed. I really loved the friendships in this book, the relationship between Bluebelle and her younger sister Pearl, and her banter with her best friend Camille, who stars in some HILARIOUS scenes. I didn’t feel like the love interest was very fleshed out though; I think the book would have been wonderful enough without him. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I definitely want to check out more of Laura Dockrill’s work.


The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight

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Rating: 3.5 stars

This is a self-help book all about learning not to care so much about things that stress you out and make you unhappy. It’s light-hearted, and wonderfully sweary. If you are at all offended by expletives, I’d suggest you don’t read this book, because basically every other word is ‘f**k’. I really liked the concept of this book, because I am somebody who cares way too much about what other people think of me. Since reading this book, I think I am getting better at not giving a f**k, although it’s not as easy as this author makes it sound. Knight talks about the idea of giving less f**ks to things that annoy you, and more f**ks to the things that bring you joy. I really appreciated this! Giving up giving a f**k about things you don’t enjoy leaves more time, energy and money for you to spend on the things you do. However, I didn’t agree with all of the examples the author used. She talks about saying no to something your friend asks you to come to (for example their art exhibition) if it doesn’t interest you, but I’m not the sort of person who would chose not to support someone I love in something they care about simply because it’s not *my* thing. The other example that didn’t sit well with me was when the author said that if you don’t give a f**k about recycling, you don’t have to do it. To me, this is just irresponsible and immature. Nevertheless, I liked the message of this book, even if I didn’t like the silly examples (which were probably just there for comedic value, but still…); I will definitely try to apply it to the areas of my life I stress too much over.


The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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Rating: 3 stars

I had mixed feelings about this book. I feel like I both enjoyed and was let down by it. I loved the concept; the book is set in a town where everybody is aware of the existence of faeries. In the woods outside of town there is a sleeping boy trapped in a glass coffin, and the story follows what happens when somebody frees him. The writing in this book was atmospheric and delicious. I would like to perhaps re-read it again in Autumn, as it gave me lots of Autumnal vibes. All the bits of this book about the Fey and the folklore surrounding them were also fascinating to me. What let this book down for me was the pacing and the plot. I felt there was too much focus on backstory and flashbacks, which meant that the forward action was slow to unfold, then all of a sudden rushed to its conclusion. The plot was interesting to me, but I felt that more time needed to be spent on the exciting bits. There’s a lot of talking between the characters, and planning, and not enough action. I feel like maybe this would work better as a series, rather than a standalone; the plot could have been richer, the romances more believable, and the faerie world expanded upon.


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear from you! (And please, do feel free to stop by and fangirl about Leah on the Offbeat with me!) ❤

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Books I read on my random, super-long hiatus (Part 1)

Hello lovely people! I know I’ve been AWOL for a while, and I’m so sorry! I have no excuses, so I’m not going to make any. However, I did miss you guys, and I missed blogging, and now I’m back! I’ll try not to stay away so long next time. 🙂

I’ve read a lot of books recently (for me), so I thought I’d do some mini reviews. I’m splitting this into two parts, because otherwise this post will go on for DAYS. Without further ado…


Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

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Rating: 3.5 stars

This book was not amazingly written, the language was quite simplistic and cliched, however I did enjoy it a lot. It was a quick, easy read that kept me entertained throughout, and even had me shedding a few tears at one point. The story follows a young woman named Sophie who works in a teashop in the town she grew up in. She meets an actor named Billy when he comes to her town to film an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and this story follows their relationship as it develops. I really liked Sophie as a character, and found her very relatable. Sophie suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and I felt they were very well handled. The way Sophie lies awake at night worrying about and overanalysing everything was so familiar to me. I really rooted for Sophie, and I loved that she didn’t try to be a different person just to fit into Billy’s world; she knew her own mind, and how she deserved to be treated. What I loved most about this book was the friendship between Sophie and Molly, the older lady who owns the teashop where Sophie works. Though the book is primarily about the romance between Sophie and Billy, theirs was the real love story of this novel for me.


Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel

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Rating: 2.5 stars

I was left underwhelmed by this book. It’s essentially the story of a girl named Juniper who is grieving for her sister Camilla. The plot centres around a letter that Juniper finds from her sister to somebody she was secretly dating. Juniper wants to find out the identity of this person, so she can learn more about this part of Camilla’s life she never knew about. My main issue with this book is that, despite being the focus of Juniper’s story, Camilla didn’t feel like a real person to me. Juniper tells us Camilla was this vibrant, larger than life person, but we are never SHOWN that in any of Juniper’s flashbacks. Camilla barely even has any dialogue; Juniper tells us what she says and does, instead of showing us, and as a result, her character seems kind of flat. I felt a similar way about Juniper herself; I didn’t get a huge sense of who she was as a person. Despite this, I did think the side characters were well drawn. For example. Juniper’s love interest, the school bad boy ‘Brand’, which yes I do think is a silly name, reminded me of a less-of-an-asshole version of Bender from The Breakfast Club, and I found myself enjoying his scenes quite a lot. I also really liked the new friends that Juniper makes (because her supposed best friend hasn’t spoken to her since her sister’s death). On the whole, I just found the writing in this book a bit bland. It also bugged me at times with trying to be funny; a character would make a really crap joke, and then the other characters would have a really over-the-top laughing reaction, and it was just… nope. This book was entertaining enough to keep me reading, but I wanted to love it a whole lot more than I did.


Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

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Rating: 5 stars

I loved this book so much! I didn’t want to put it down, and I was constantly thinking about how great it was, even when I wasn’t reading it. The story follows two characters, Phoebe and Luke, in their first term of university, and it is told in alternating chapters from both of their perspectives. To start with, let me just say that this book is HILARIOUS – genuinely laugh out loud funny. The dialogue is witty, and all of the embarrassing moments had me cackling with laughter. I particularly loved Phoebe’s chapters, because she makes friends with these two girls, Frankie and Negin, and the characterisation of these girls and the friendship between them is so brilliantly written and full of comedy.  I really enjoyed Luke’s chapters, too. Luke made some stupid decisions at times, but he felt like a fully fleshed out male character. I appreciated the way the chapters from his point of view explored his insecurities about finding friends and fitting in at university. I think it’s really important to show that boys worry about these things just as much as girls do. This book made me so nostalgic for my university days because it is SO authentic to the UK university experience: the drinking culture, the endless tea drinking, the random characters you meet, the nights that don’t go as planned, the mistakes you make, the emotional angst, the things you miss, the laughs you have, and the intense friendships you form. I also thought the exploration of ‘LAD’ culture on campus was very true to life, and there is a fantastic takedown of this in a very epic protest scene that I 100% adored.


This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

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Rating: 4.5 stars

This book is a memoir about Adam Kay’s time spent working for the NHS as a Junior Doctor. It’s told in short, anecdotal diary entries, making it extremely readable and moreish. This book was incredible because it evoked so many different emotions in me. For the most part, it was laugh of loud funny. Adam Kay has excellent comic timing, and delivers the punchline of each anecdote flawlessly. As you might expect, this is the kind of book which makes you concerned for humanity as you read about all the ridiculous reasons people end up in hospital, a.k.a. the ridiculous objects people get lodged in ridiculous orifices. But this book is poignant too. Reading about what it’s like to work such long hours, under such intense pressure, brought it home to me how much respect we should have for the people who have chosen this way of life. Being a doctor means sacrificing any idea of a personal life. They can’t take sick leave, they can barely take holidays, they rarely get to sleep all night long in their own bed. They are heroes.  This book also made me feel a tiny bit scared of doctors, because it made me realise that these heroes are also human beings … human beings operating on very little sleep or sustenance, who may have only performed a certain procedure a handful of times before, if at all. Our life is literally in their hands. There were lots of squeamish bits in this book, and I exercised my grimace muscle a lot whilst reading it, but I liked Adam Kay’s honesty. It was fascinating being able to explore the day to day reality of life as a doctor. There were also some very sad parts of this book, particularly Adam’s account of the incident which eventually led to him giving up medicine. Like I said, I experienced a lot of different emotions whilst reading this book, and all in all it was a fantastic memoir I would highly recommend


Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? More reviews coming your way soon!

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Book Review in which I fangirl over ‘Illuminae’ a little, okay a lot

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1). Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Rock the Boat. October 2015.

The year is 2575 and two mega-corporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice covered speck.  Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it.  With enemy fire raining down on them Ezra and Kady have to make their escape on the evacuating fleet.  But their troubles are just beginning.  A deadly plague has broken out on one of the space ships and it is mutating with terrifying results.  Their ships protection is seriously flawed.   No one will say what is going on. 

As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth its clear only one person can help her. Ezra. And the only problem with that is they split up before all this trouble started and she isn’t supposed to be talking to him…


I picked this book up at YALC last year because of HYPE, and it has sat on my shelf for almost a year gathering dust because I kept on looking at it and wondering why I had bought it. Sci-Fi isn’t my favourite genre, I’m not usually interested in anything to do with space, and it looked so long and intimidating.  But, on a whim a few days ago, I decided to finally give it a try, and OMG… I was utterly, utterly blown away by this book.

(Prepare yourself for ABSOLUTELY tons of unnecessary adverbs in this review because I got REALLY excited and expressed it by saying ‘TOTALLY’ an inappopriate amount of times!)

I was totally wrong to be intimidated by this book. I absolutely flew through the pages, because the plot was so fast paced and addictive. It may look gigantically long, and granted, it’s not a read-in-one-sitting kind of book, but it’s a much quicker read than you might imagine because of its format. The story is told using all different kinds of media; reports, interview transcripts, IM messages, pictures… There was something new and interesting to look at on every page, so I zipped through the book, totally absorbed. By the time I got to the end, I actually wished there was another 599 pages of it. (I’ve just ordered both sequels and it’s killing me that I have to wait even 24 hours to start devouring Gemina). This book is such a unique, visual experience, that you really do need to get your hands on a physical copy if you can (although I have heard good things about the audiobook!). The production that went into this book is incredible, and the whole thing is basically a stunning masterpiece I could stare at all day.

I loved the characters in this book: Ezra, Kady, and even AIDAN, the possibly insane Artificial Intelligence controlling the Alexander, the largest ship harbouring refugees from Ezra and Kady’s invaded planet. Ezra was a sweetheart; he had a romantic soul, and I would normally find some of the things he said to Kady sappy, but somehow he was cool enough and genuine enough to pull them off. Kady was just this TOTAL BADASS. I admired her so much, because she showed such bravery in the face of situations she was clearly utterly terrified of. I legit punched my fist in the air and cheered ‘YESSSS’ at basically everything she did.

And AIDAN… how do I even begin to explain AIDAN? Such a complex character, whose presence in the story had me asking so many questions. Could an Artificial Intelligence have feelings? Could it have a conscience? Could it make the wrong decisions, and should it be blamed for their outcomes? I loved all of the sections in the book made up of messages from AIDAN’s core. AIDAN’s thoughts were unexpectedly beautiful, eerie, and poetic… In fact, AIDAN subtly referenced quite a lot of the poems that I studied at university, so the English Lit graduate in me was geeking out every time I spotted one.

The plot of this book is so, so tense. At the beginning we are thrown straight into the action, and the stakes just keep getting higher and higher. There are some brilliant twists I did not see coming, and some genuinely creepy-as-hell moments. I mean, the characters are being pursued from so many different directions, and there was never a moment where I didn’t consider the possibility of them all dying horrific deaths. I read this book late into the night several times and it gave me super-intense, scary dreams about being chased because I was so charged up with excitement and adrenaline after reading. Even now I have finished the book, I am buzzing, and I am so, so ready for tomorrow to come so I can read the next book. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

If you’re unsure about picking up Illuminae because Sci-Fi’s not your thang, or you are scared of big books (I hear you), trust me when I say you will not regret reading this one. It was completely out of my personal comfort zone, but I inhaled it, and I sacrificed sleep to do so. I fell in love with the characters, freaked out many times, welled up with ALL THE EMOTIONS, and basically had the most amazing time soaking up the epicness and GLORY of this book. THIS IS DEFINITELY THE BEST BOOK I HAVE READ SO FAR THIS YEAR.

If you loved this book as much as I did, please do stop by and SQUEAL with me about it. If you haven’t read it yet, WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE?!?!?

 

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Book Review: ‘Clean’ by Juno Dawson

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Clean. Juno Dawson. Quercus Children’s Books. April 2018.

When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility.

From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady.

As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all …


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

Trigger warning: drug abuse, addiction, eating disorders, self harm

Juno Dawson is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. I got approved to read this book on Netgalley a couple of months ago, but I’ve only just got around to reading it… I wish I’d picked it up sooner, particularly as I have been swimming through a sea of three-star, take-or-leave kind of books the past few weeks. This fantastic book really pulled me out of my slump.

What I love most about Juno’s books is her characterisation. All of her protagonists have such distinctive voices, and Lexi is no exception. Prickly, sarcastic, and selfish, Lexi may be unlikeable to begin with, but her character leaps off the page, and her character development as the story progresses is so satisfying; I really cared about and liked her by the end of the novel. Lexi is a seventeen year old heiress to a chain of luxury hotels, a socialite who has fallen in with the wrong crowd (and more specifically the wrong boy), and… a heroin addict. This novel has been described as a cross between Gossip Girl and Girl, Interrupted, and there is definitely something of party-girl-days-Serena-Van-der-Woodsen about Lexi. But Lexi is a much more complex and interesting character in my opinion. With everything you know about Lexi to begin with, you could write her off as a poor-little-rich-girl cliché, but you shouldn’t, because there is so much more to her.

At the start of Clean we see Lexi being ‘kidnapped’ and taken to a residential treatment facility by her older brother Nikolai. How Lexi acts at the beginning of the book is miles away from who she is by the end of the book. It’s summed up best by a scene where Lexi says something totally unforgivable to her doctor in her blind rage. She later apologises to him, and he tells her: ‘You and I haven’t really met yet, I’ve only met the addiction living in your body’; (I’m paraphrasing this because I’m too lazy to scroll through on my Kindle and find the exact quote). It’s so interesting to gradually get to know the real Lexi as her system is detoxed of all the poison she has been putting into it for so long (but BOY, the journey is NOT easy). Lexi to begin with IS her addiction, and once the addiction is stripped away, she has to relearn who she is without the drugs. She feels like a real person, who is really hurting, and I grew to really love who she was underneath it all.

I loved the side characters in this book too. I didn’t love the druggy crowd that Lexi had been spending her time with before going to rehab, because they were so, so bad for her to be around, but all of the characters at the treatment centre (which is on an island, so makes the relationships between the residents feel very close-knit) were wonderful in their own ways. The cast of characters was diverse, and all of the characters had distinctive personalities, complex problems and flaws, and authentic voices. My favourite side characters were probably Kendall, a trans anorexic girl, who becomes Lexi’s closest friend on the island, and Sasha, a mixed race girl with multiple mental health issues, who is the only character on the island not to come from a privileged background. Sasha was abrasive, aggressive, scary at times, but also such a complex and interesting character, and someone who came out with some of the most raw, insightful, brutally honest comments which really got under my skin. I loved her feistiness, and I loved all of the interactions between her and Lexi.

There is a romance in this book, but I won’t go into this too much as I don’t want to spoil anything. I thought it was well done, and I’m glad that the romance wasn’t used as a device to ‘cure’ Lexi’s illness. I did feel that it happened quickly, but given the intense circumstances of being in addiction recovery on an island where you can’t help but get to know people intimately, it made a lot of sense. I didn’t feel heaps of romantic tension, but I did feel sweetness, warmth and safety, and I think that was kind of the point. Lexi needed a healthy relationship, not a wild, passionate, dangerous one.

Aside from the characters, I think what I loved most about this book was the setting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in a rehabilitation clinic, and it was fascinating to see how they operate, and the emotional journey someone like Lexi would experience after being unexpectedly dropped off there and told she needs help, urgently. Some of the scenes in the first half of the book where Lexi is coming off the opiates are pretty harrowing, and you can’t help but feel desperately sorry for her, even if she is being a total asshole to pretty much everyone she comes across. I loved the relationship between Lexi and her doctor, which of course starts off on extremely hostile ground. I also loved seeing Lexi start to explore some of the activities the island has to offer, once she is feeling more physically capable. There’s a wonderful storyline surrounding horse-riding, and an extremely difficult horse called Storm, and I really enjoyed the way it mirrored Lexi’s journey, but also became a huge part of it.

All in all, I absolutely adored this book. It was hard-hitting and emotional, showing addiction in its true and ugly light, and it was full of complex characters I grew to love and loved to see develop. Highly recommend this one!

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ARC Book Review: ‘The Hazel Wood’ by Melissa Albert

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The Hazel Wood. Melissa Albert. Penguin. Release date: 8th February 2018.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began…


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

I finished reading The Hazel Wood over the Christmas holidays and I have been putting off writing my review ever since, because I had no idea what to say about it without being too spoilery. It’s one of those books you’re better off going into without knowing too much, because the weird twists and turns are what make it such a compelling read.

When I first read the description of this book, I was DESPERATE to get my hands on it, especially when I saw that one reviewer had compared it to Night Film by Marisha Pessl (which is one of my favourite books of all time). When I initially requested the book on Netgalley, I got rejected, and I was SO disappointed, but then a few weeks later I randomly decided to try my luck again and this time I got approved! I was OVER THE MOON.

This was such a fantastic book to read over Christmas because it provided a strange and absorbing world to escape into whenever Christmassy socialising got a bit overwhelming. It’s one of those books that really draws you in and makes you forget where you are. The writing is creepy, atmospheric, and surreal; in other words, my ultimate cup of tea.

What made The Hazel Wood such an addictive read for me was the weird mystery of it all, and the blurred lines between fantasy and reality. I can see why this book has been compared to Night Film, because both books are reality-bending, thrilling reads, and both involve a character investigating the works and worlds of a mysterious, elusive creator (in Night Film it’s a cult horror movie director, but in The Hazel Wood it’s a cult fairytale writer; what a cool thing to be obscurely famous for, amiright?!).

Althea Proserpine, author of ‘Tales From The Hinterland’ was such a fascinating character, because she is such an enigma in the story; Alice, her granddaughter (and our protagonist) has never even read a copy of her book because it’s so rare and difficult to get hold of. Her stories are a mystery, her fans are full of strange theories which they discuss on shady internet forums, her estate ‘The Hazel Wood’ has attained mythical status, because nobody knows where it is, though many have tried to find it, and being an absent Grandmother, she’s a missing piece in Alice’s family puzzle too. I adored the experience of unravelling each thread in this complex, one-woman mystery.

Another thing I really enjoyed about The Hazel Wood was the mother/daughter dynamic between Alice and her mother Ella. Ella is something of an enigma too, because she is a keeper of many secrets, and as the majority of the book’s storyline is Alice’s quest to find Ella, they don’t get that much page-time together. However, it was lovely to see how close Alice felt to, and fiercely loyal she was towards, her mum (something we don’t often see in YA books), and Alice’s connection with her mum really helped me to find a connection with her (something I struggled with initially, because I found her spiky and difficult to warm up to).

I really enjoyed all of the flashbacks from Alice’s childhood with Ella, and it was interesting to see how their lifestyle affected and deepened the bond between them; Alice’s whole childhood was spent moving from place to place, sometimes at the drop of a hat, so, being all each other really had in the world, Alice and Ella were bound very tightly together from the beginning.

Undoubtedly what I loved most about The Hazel Wood was its use of fairytale. Although we don’t get to hear all of Althea’s tales, I was gripped completely by each and every one of them. I wish ‘Tales From The Hinterland’ was a real book (or at the very least, a spin-off written by Melissa Albert 😛 ), because I would give anything to read it.

The fairytales interspersed within this novel were so dark, strange, and creepy, and I just devoured them. The beginning of the story ‘Alice Three Times’ in particular made me shiver. I don’t want to say too much about the stories and how they tie in with Alice’s quest, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found the whole concept very imaginative, and very well executed. I would have liked the last section of the book to have been a little longer, so we could have delved more deeply into the setting of Althea’s stories, but I’m pretty sure there is going to be a sequel to this book, so I’m grateful there is still plenty more to explore.

All in all, The Hazel Wood was a novel I couldn’t put down (and immediately decided to re-read upon finishing!) I cannot wait for this book to come out in February so I can get my hands on a physical copy, and I can’t wait for more people to read this so I have someone to talk about it with!

Have you read The Hazel Wood? What did you think of it? Reviews seem to be mixed, but for me it completely lived up to my (very high) expectations!

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Book review: ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’ by Mackenzi Lee

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Mackenzi Lee. Katherine Tegan Books. June 2017.

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.


I don’t tend to reach for historical fiction often, but if more historical fiction books were written like this one, I would be far more inclined to pick them up. This book’s writing style was so accessible and modern, which made it light and fun to read. There was plenty of historical detail, and I could picture everything vividly, but there wasn’t so much as to make the book dry, and I never felt like the author was trying to overwhelm me by cramming in everything she knew about the period.

Something I really appreciated about his book was the author’s guide to the historical context at the end. There had been points throughout the story where I had been thinking ‘Could that really have happened in the 1700s?’ (even though I know NOTHING about the 1700s, so I was clearly talking out of my posterior), but everything had a factual basis, and it was clear the author had done her research. I learnt a lot from this book, particularly regarding race, sexuality, and scientific thought during this time period, but the story always came first, and I never felt like I was being lectured, which to me is the way all historical fiction should read.

Monty was a fabulous narrator – funny, self-deprecating, arrogant, yet insecure. Monty messed up A LOT in this book, but he felt like a real person BECAUSE of his flaws. I abso-bloody-lutely adored him, and just wanted to cuddle him, and tell him everything was going to be okay. Percy was another wonderful character. He was calm and sensible, but never boring. Beneath his quiet façade he had a wicked sense of humour, and the solid sense of confidence needed to call Monty out whenever he was being an idiot. Percy, despite growing up in a white aristocratic household, was a mixed raced character, which was a refreshing perspective to see explored in a historical novel. Characters of colour are not often enough given the spotlight in historical fiction, unless said books are exploring race-related topics specifically (which of course this book does too to a certain extent); it was wonderful to read a story about a POC character in the 1700s embarking on a thrilling (and romantic!) adventure with his best friend. We need more books like this one!

My favourite thing by far about this book was the relationship between Monty and Percy. Monty is a bisexual character who is secretly (but quite obviously) in love with his best friend, and I felt so many feels in all of the scenes where Monty was pining over Percy. These two were SO shippable, but also their relationship was flawed and realistic. There are moments when Monty is being selfish, and not really thinking about what Percy needs/how he feels, and there are moments when he really needs to be called out on that. Percy doesn’t hesitate to do so, and I felt like Percy really helped Monty to grow as a person, and acknowledge his areas of ignorance. I felt like Percy was the perfect match for Monty, bringing him back to reality whenever he went too far, and brining balance and harmony to their relationship. Percy, in short, was exactly what Monty needed.

Monty’s sister Felicity was also a character I loved to pieces. She was crotchety, smart, and always had her head stuck in a book, even at the breakfast table. Basically, she was a girl after my own heart. I hate the phrase ‘strong female character’, but to me, Felicity was exactly that. She wasn’t someone who knew how to fight, or use a weapon, but she was someone who could use her brain to outsmart anybody, and her self-taught knowledge and practical skills helped her to come up with solutions to so many of the problems the trio encountered throughout their journey.

I loved how far from the course of their original Tour the characters ended up, and I loved how much of an adventure this book became. I don’t want to go into plot details too much, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book takes you all over Europe, leading you into lots of unexpected, and dangerous, situations along the way. This story never stopped being exciting! If I had one little quibble, it would be that the pacing was at times too fast, which sounds like a strange criticism, because nobody wants a 500-page book to drag! I just sometimes felt like we jumped from one situation to another too quickly, without any time to breathe in between. However, this was a very minor grumble – it didn’t bother me enough to spoil my five star rating of this book.

I loved this book so much; it more than lived up the hype for me, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a well-written, entertaining, funny, diverse read full of characters you will fall in love with. JUMP ON THAT BANDWAGON, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!

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Thriller review: ‘The Marriage Pact’ by Michelle Richmond

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The Marriage Pact. Michelle Richmond. Penguin. July 2017.

Would you stake your life on your marriage?

Newlyweds Jake and Alice are offered a mysterious wedding gift – membership of a club which promises its couples will never divorce.

Signing The Pact seems the start to a perfect marriage.

Until one of them breaks the rules.

The marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

Because The Pact is for life.

And its members will do anything to make sure no one leaves . . .


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

The Marriage Pact is hands down the best thriller I have read this year. I very rarely give 5 stars to a thriller these days because they are often samey and predictable, but this one had such a unique concept, and it was so well executed, that it ended up really wowing me.

I’ve always been fascinated by cults, but all of the cult-related books I have read have featured closed-community type cults. I loved that The Pact was a completely different kind of cult – an organisation operating on a global scale, with seemingly unlimited funds, and extreme levels of secrecy regarding its members and its methods. The scale, influence, and sinister mystery of The Pact made it all the more terrifying.

Jake and Alice were both likeable and believable characters, and I really enjoyed the development of their relationship, particularly seeing how it fared under such pressure (the whole being terrorised by a marriage-cult thing… just your standard marital problem). Although I loved both characters, they both frustrated me at times. The Pact really got between these characters, and the danger it put them in forced them to hide things from each other. But, if only they had communicated with each other more, they’d have had so much more ammunition with which to fight back against The Pact. I just wanted to smack their heads together, and be like: ‘Talk to each other, you fooools!” That being said, the deeper the trouble Jake and Alice got themselves into, the faster I was turning those pages. I cared about them, and I could barely put this book down; I carried it with me whilst I washed, dressed, cooked, ate, and absent-mindedly participated in conversations.

The Marriage Pact is told from Jake’s point of view, and I really connected with him as a narrator, although I would have welcomed some chapters from Alice’s point of view. There are sections of this book where Alice is going through (scary, scary) things that I would have loved to have heard about from her perspective. However, I guess I can appreciate why the author has chosen not to do this; the tension is ramped up to the max when Jake is separated from Alice and has no idea what is happening to her.

What I loved most about this novel was the world-building. World-building isn’t something I would usually associate with a thriller novel, but The Pact, as a wide-reaching cult-like community, needed a lot of setting-up. I think the author did a marvellous job of making The Pact feel like an authentic ‘world’, and succeeded at weaving in details throughout the story, rather than information-dumping everything at the beginning to set the scene. Every aspect of The Pact was well-thought out, from the rules, to the rituals, to the ridiculously terrifying Pact headquarters, named Fernley. I don’t want to reveal any details about what Fernley is/is like in this review, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt like this gigantic place was so well described, so intricately thought out and revealed, that it felt scarily real, like the setting of a vivid nightmare.

If you are going to read this novel, naturally you are going to require a little suspension of disbelief. One thing that perplexed me when I first started reading this novel was how readily Jake and Alice signed their lives over to The Pact. Of course, they didn’t really know what they were letting themselves in for, but that’s where my issue lies; neither of them read The Pact’s main text ‘The Manual’ before deciding whether to join. In fact, they both scribble their signatures hastily, without even bothering to have a proper look at the contract they are signing. Alice is supposed to be an attorney, so it made no sense to me that she would sign a legal document without reading it first! Anyway, I quickly decided to suspend my disbelief, and I’m glad I did, because the story that followed was so exciting, I ended up being fully appreciative of Alice’s moment of madness (even if I do still think she needs to go back to Law school!)

All in all, I loved this thriller to pieces, and I decided to give this one a full 5 stars, because it gripped me so hard I was still thinking about it hours after finishing it. Highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something to devour in one sitting.

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The ‘cute’ children’s classic that filled me with rage! #rantbookreview

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The Peppermint Pig. Nina Bawden. (First published 1975)

It is a difficult year for the Greengrasses. Poll’s father has lost his job and gone overseas, the family are living off the charity of two aunts, and Poll and her brother Theo just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It takes a tiny, mischievous pig to bring laughter back into their lives.


I picked up this book because I love pigs and I thought this cosy-looking children’s classic would be the perfect cheer-me-up book. I am not usually one to discourage people from reading a particular book, but if you are an animal lover, vegetarian, or sensitive soul, I would strongly advise you don’t read The Peppermint Pig. I am also not usually one for spoilers, but I am going to spoil the ending of this book in my review/discussion because I need to talk about it and vent my feelings. Look away now, if you don’t want to be spoiled.

So, just to give you a brief idea of why I was so upset by this book, let me give you a synopsis:

  • Children’s dad loses his job. Dad goes off to America to try and make his fortune, leaving the rest of the family to move in with their aunts in a cramped cottage. They do not have much money.
  • Family get a little pet pig called Johnnie who is so small he fits inside a pint glass. Johnnie is a mischievous pig with a penchant for Hot Cross Buns, and cheers the family up with his cheeky antics.
  • Johnnie gets large and fat and too big for the house. Family gets a new puppy to distract the children from what is about to happen.
  • Mum sends Johnnie to the butcher to be slaughtered.

DEAR GOD, WHAT A CRUEL AND BRUTAL WAY TO END A STORY. I had no idea how to rate this book out of five stars, so I ended up giving it no rating at all. I wanted to give it 1 star, but I felt it would be unfair of me to give the book such a bad rating for having a sad ending. But I felt so angry with the author, and even more so with the publishers. Let me explain…

Up until Johnnie is killed, the book had been sweet and lovely and heartwarming. If this book didn’t have such a horrible ending, I might have given it four or five stars for its cosy, charming writing and amusing characters. But I felt incredibly betrayed by this book, because it pretends to be something it isn’t. If I was reading a Stephen King novel, I would expect at least one of the characters to come to a grisly end, because that’s kind of what I signed up for. But, the adorable pig on the front cover and the cutesy blurb on the back cover give no indication that Johnnie is going to end up on someone’s dinner plate by the end of this story. This book is packaged so that it will appeal to animal lovers, yet animals lovers are exactly the kind of audience who should avoid this book like the plague. It all feels so misleading: “Read this cute piggy book, it will make you so happy… oh wait, we’re lying to you, it will actually rip your heart out of your body and spit on it, whilst you sit there and cry a salty river of tears!”

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An even cuter purveyor of evil lies!

I think in some way the author intends for her audience to feel betrayed, because in feeling so we can fully empathise with the little girl protagonist Poll, who loves her friend Johnnie and feels horribly betrayed by her mother for sending him away to be killed and eaten. Perhaps the author is trying to explore the theme of adults lying to/misleading children, and that we cannot always trust those we love. But, the thing is, a few scenes later, the author attempts to justify what has happened to Johnnie by having Poll’s Aunt Sarah take her to the butcher and explain that animals HAVE to be killed so that we can eat them. After this, Poll forgives her mother without much more fuss. So, I’m not really sure what message the author is trying to convey. It doesn’t really seem like she’s on Johnnie’s side though. (RIP)

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the mum has to sell the pig; I understand that the family are poor and struggling, and that sometimes bad things happen. I know that bad things happening in a book doesn’t make the book itself bad. I know that not all stories have happy endings, and that we shouldn’t shy away from helping children to understand that. But, at the same time… I would never read this story to a child, and I regret reading it myself. Sometimes we NEED a happy book with a comforting ending, to give us hope, to make us feel better. That’s what I thought I was getting, which is the reason I was left so bitterly disappointed by this book.

This is not a bad book, and I can see why lots of people DO love it, because it is well-written, with loveable characters (especially the late Johnnie, RIP). However, this book really wasn’t for me. I’m sorry if this review was an incoherent rant where I repeated myself a bunch of times. I probably could have just typed the word BETRAYAL over and over again and it would have had the same effect. 😛 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go read something fluffy with a proper happy ending. Recommendations welcome!

P.S. If anyone needs cheering up now, you are welcome to look at this photo of me hanging out with an adorable micro pig (who just would not look at the camera, sorry!) and live vicariously through me 🙂

kewlilpigs

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