Review: Am I Normal Yet?

Review: Am I Normal Yet?Am I Normal Yet? (The Spinster Club, #1) by Holly Bourne
Published by Usborne Publishing Ltd on August 1st 2015
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 434
Format: ebook
Source: Library

All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…
But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

I don’t really remember when I first spotted Am I normal yet? but the series has been on my radar for a long time now.  I have to admit, the cover for the second book in the series, How Hard Can love be? definitely put me off a bit.  I don’t read a lot of contemporary – although actually, every time I say this I realise I read more than I thought I did (nearly 10% of my read so far this year!).  It’s definitely not a favourite genre though, and I’m pretty picky about what I pick up, and How Hard Can love be? made me think of a very light, very romance-heavy teen drama, which isn’t really my favourite thing, so I kept putting it off.  I then ended up with a proof of What’s a Girl Gotta Do which I couldn’t resist starting and ending up loving (review to come!).  Having been suitably impressed, this year I’m finally getting around to going back and reading the earlier books in the series.

This book left me with a lot of feelings.  Evie’s story hooked me pretty much straight away, and I finished Am I Normal Yet? the same day I picked it up, which is a pretty good indicator of how much I enjoyed it.  I found Evie immensely likable, and believable.  Although I couldn’t really see what she liked about Guy, I did find her feelings believable, and I liked how it wasn’t the standard ‘girl falls in love with first boy she dates and then they all lived happily ever after’.  It was very refreshing to see a story – particularly a teen story – with more interesting and complicated relationships than either a) just one love interest where everything works out perfectly, or b) a brief paragraph at the beginning that vaguely mentions having a past relationship before the ‘real’ love interest is introduced and then everything works out perfectly.  I liked the messy, realistic, chaotic teen relationships in this a lot more!  I also loved the way Evie’s OCD was portrayed and talked about – the recovery diary entries, the counselling sessions, the medication dosages, the Bad Thoughts (and Worse Thoughts), all really helped you to understand what Evie was thinking and feeling and how she was dealing – or in some cases not dealing – with things.  I felt like Holly Bourne really nailed getting you into Evie’s head, because for me at least this was the kind of book that literally took you on an emotional rollercoaster, from giggles to tears and back with a whole lot of other emotions on the way.  I did feel a little emotionally wrung-out afterwards!

While I loved Evie, the mental-health representation and the relationships, the book definitely wasn’t perfect.  While I liked Amber and Lottie too, their incessant bitching about Jane did begin to grate after a while.  I also occasionally felt like their feminism was a bit too forced, with Lottie just giving these big info-dumps, and with an ongoing underlying message of ‘you can’t be a feminist and still like boys’, which I didn’t enjoy.   There were also a couple of comments that just didn’t quite sit right from where I’m sitting like “periods are what make us girls“.  Not particularly inclusive…

Having said all that, while there were things I didn’t like, I ultimately did really enjoy the book, and it is one I’d happily read again, so it just about squeaks through to the four stars.  Anna’s review where she says “Bourne told us about feminism, but she showed us about mental illness” is absolutely spot on I think.  Ultimately it was Evie, her OCD and the way we go through the emotional wringer with her that I loved about this book, and while the feminism side was okay, it wasn’t on the same level, and ultimately weakened the book a little.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Release

Review: ReleaseRelease by Patrick Ness
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 288

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It's a big day. Things go wrong. It's intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches...

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It's a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won't come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Patrick Ness is the kind of author that inspires absolute devotion in his fans, but I’ve always felt like a bit of an outcast.  I read and enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go in June 2015 but not so much that I’ve finished the rest of the series since. Release isn’t necessarily the sort of thing I’d usually pick up, but I do love LGBT fiction, and I was determined to try something else by Patrick Ness.

Release has two plotlines – Adam’s and an interlinking supernatural story.  I absolutely adored Adam’s story, which was fast-paced and gripping, but also managed to be touching and heart-felt and romantic.  The supernatural storyline on the other hand, didn’t work for me at all, even though I’m normally a fantasy fan.  It felt too distant, too unrelated, and there were times when I resented having to leave Adam’s story for the distinctly slower supernatural element.  While I might have enjoyed the storyline interesting as a primary plot with some more fleshing out, the two plotlines just didn’t connect well for me.

He was a nerd, like Renee and Karen said, but nerdiness – like a big nose, like a belly – was never any barrier to cuteness.

Adam is great, as are the supporting characters.  Ness has captured that feeling of ‘otherness’, of awkwardness, of self-doubt that is easy to feel as a teen.  I found him instantly likeable, and I sympathised with him from page one until the end of the story.  Angela is supportive, and hilarious, and I absolutely loved the relationship between the two of them.  Angela is a character with feelings and thoughts and problems of her owns, not just a side-kick best friend who exists only to prop the protaganist up, which I really liked.

What if there was some tiny, tiny fault in the first building blocks of who he was, and everything since that first moment of life was just papering over an essential crack? And he was just a carapace built on a facade built on scaffolding and there was no real core to him, no real central worth?

Release is a quick read that I easily got through in a day because I didn’t want to put it down.  The characters are great, the pacing is good, the conflict is dramatic and heart-wrenching and impossible not to get invested in.  I liked the romance and it was such a nice change to see a teen contemporary (especially with a gay romance) that just doesn’t have every romantic scene fade to black, or shy away from the realities that sex – teen or otherwise) can sometimes be messy, or funny, or awkward.  Unfortunately though, while those things are all true of Adam’s storyline, the book does also have the supernatural plot, which I didn’t really love.  That makes it really difficult to rate the book, but I think overall, even in spite of the supernatural storyline, I was left overall with an impression of having really enjoyed it.  The fact that the book is short probably helps, because it meant that although I found the supernatural plot a bit dull, each section was so short it wasn’t long before I was back to the story I really cared about.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

TBR list review: Flame in the Mist

TBR list review: Flame in the MistFlame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for The Wrath and the Dawn and it’s sequel, but Flame in the Mist is the first Renée Ahdieh book I’d ever picked up, so I had pretty much no idea what to expect.  Feudal Japan, Mulan-inspired, Fantasy… It sounded pretty epic, and so I had high hopes.  Plus, although the cover isn’t necessarily an indication of a great book, this gorgeous cover certainly stands out and kept me coming back to it often, wondering if I should finally give it a chance.  On the other hand, Flame in the Mist has seen massive positive hype, and that always makes me a little cautious which is why I didn’t pick this up until it was chosen as the TBR list winner for May.

Flame in the Mist started really slowly in my opinion – it took me 5 days to read the first third, and I felt like very little happened in that third.  I found myself starting other books, or just choosing to do things other than read, a lot of the time during those first five days, because I just wasn’t gripped at all.  The second half was addictive and took me only a day to get through, but ultimately Flame in the Mist was a bit of a disappointment for me.

I liked most of the characters, or at the very least I was curious about them even if I didn’t necessarily like them – Ranmaru, Yoshi, Okami and Yumi are all interesting, and I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Ranmaru and Okami.  I didn’t have particularly strong feelings for Mariko either way – her logic sometimes baffled me, but I didn’t dislike her, and I liked the fact she had opinions of her own about being married off etc.  I didn’t like the romance particularly though, and I just didn’t believe the sexual chemistry between them at all.  It felt like it was trying to be a sort of enemies to lovers ship – one of my favourite types of ship! – but I felt like the attraction between the two came out of nowhere.

There were times when Ahdieh’s descriptions were lovely and evocative, and there are some clever quotes you can’t help but admire, but there were also times when the writing style infuriated me and distracted me from the story. There were a lot of times when the description descends into tiny short sentences which didn’t work for me at all.  I’ve lent my copy to a friend so I can’t skim it for more examples, but consider this one, a featured quote on Goodreads.  Some of this sort of works for me in a taking-control-of-her-destiny-way, but is a prime example of the tiny little sentences I mean:

“But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward. Mariko was the daughter of a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai. But more than that, she still held power over her decisions. For at least this one last day. She would face her enemy. And die with honor.”

These short sentences, inevitably all jammed together in rapid succession jarred me out of the story, and I found myself wondering why they were there.  In the example above, I can see that it helps dial up the intensity, but they were dotted throughout the whole book, even in completely non-dramatic moments. I just began to wonder what was wrong with a descriptive sentence of more than one clause – particularly as there are times in the book when they’re used brilliantly!

The fantasy elements are few and far between, with very little explanation.  If you’re expecting to be able to understand the rules of magic in the same way you might in something like a Maria V. Snyder novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and ultimately this feels more like a historical romance than a fantasy.  While I understand not wanting to give away all the answers at once, particularly as this is going to be at least a two book series, Flame in the Mist went too far the other way for me, and I was left not understanding the magic at all.  I almost started to feel like the magic was a later addition to the original story – on the rare occasions something magical felt plot-relevant, I was left not quite sure what happened or how or why.

The setting is great, and probably my favourite part of the book.  If you ignore the magic, the world-building is great and it’s certainly the only reason I kept reading during that slow first third of the book.  Ultimately though, as great as the setting was, the slightly strange writing style and the pretty-much-incomprehensible magic system meant I didn’t love this half as much as I wanted to. The addictiveness of the second half and the great setting (combined with an unsatisfied curiosity about the magic) mean I’ll be picking the second book up, but I won’t be rushing to pre-order it.  I loved the idea, but the execution left me disappointed.


One StarOne Star

Review: A Taste Of You

A Taste of You: The Epicurean Series Book 1 by Sorcha Grace
Published by Everafter Romance on May 17th 2013
Genres: Erotica, Love & Romance
Pages: 374
Format: eARC
Source: Library

A young food photographer's appetites are awakened when she is swept off her feet by a handsome billionaire gourmand. Beautiful and talented Catherine Kelly is starting over as a food photographer in Chicago. With her painful past buried in California, she's focused on her career and is hungry for little else. Until she meets a wealthy bachelor with arresting blue-grey eyes filled with enough tragedy to match her own. William Lambourne is rich, powerful, and gorgeous--and as talented in the kitchen as he is in the bedroom. From the moment they meet, William is determined to discover the perfect recipe to unlock Cat's resolve, awaken her senses, and make her his own. Book 1 in The Epicurean series, A TASTE OF YOU will leave you hungry...for more!

Although I generally don’t like the idea of guilty pleasure books – from where I’m sitting, if you’re reading, who cares what it is?! – I can’t ever seem to stop myself from feeling a little guilty about the occasional erotic romance I pick up.  I feel about them the same way I do about ready meals – I feel like I should want to pick up something more nutritious, more healthy, less processed and yet some days, I just want to eat the ready meal (actually this isn’t a great analogy because I frequently want to eat the ready meal and only occasionally get drawn in by the erotic romance, but the idea is the same).

I pretty much knew when I decided to start A Taste of You that it would be very formulaic – insecure woman meets rich, mysterious, secretive man, and the two get involved in a controlling relationship which alternates between awesome sex and terrible communication.  I know the stories are often repetitve, but I just can’t help but pick one up every now and again, and although A Taste of You follows that basic formula, I think it’s one of the better ones.

It thrilled me to think that this man wanted me.  It made me feel sexy and powerful, even though I was completely at his mercy.

Cat Kelley is interesting: she has hobbies, passions, friends.  She has a history.  She’s had relationships – successful relationships – before she ever meets William Lambourne, so she sees the red flags just as we do, instead of being totally naive.  William Lambourne fits the same mould as Christian Grey etc, although we get to see a little bit of personality shine through towards the end of the book which I liked.  Their will-they-won’t-they relationship kept me engrossed, even though some of Cat’s moments of insecurity did make me want to shake her occasionally.  Their back stories are both interesting, the sex-scenes are steamy, and the food descriptions both in and out of the kitchen are evocative, adding an extra dimension to help A Taste of You stand out.

A Taste Of You delivers exactly what you expect and I flew through it in a couple of days.  It was enjoyable enough, but even with the cliffhanger ending (which sadly, I thought was very predictable!), I probably won’t be reading the sequel unless I can find it at the library.

Review: A Court of Mist & Fury

Review: A Court of Mist & FuryA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns & Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens Books on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 624
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

Feyre is immortal.
After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people - nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.
As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand's dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.
She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

When I read it…

I read this between May 21st and June 2nd.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Lots and lots of positive things!

What worked for me:

  • Rhysand: Rhysand is… troubled. He’s outwardly hard, inwardly damaged and weighed down by everyone’s negative expectations of him. In other words, he’s everything I love in a character!  On top of that, he’s also strangely charming despite his sarcasm, and definitely seductive.
  • The supporting characters: A LOT of my love for this book was because of the supporting characters.  I loved Mor, Azriel, Cassien, Amren, Nessa & Elain, each in their own way. I loved the relationships between Rhys and his friends, as well as Nessa & Elain’s sisterly bond.
  • The emotional rollercoaster: A Court of Mist & Fury invoked a LOT of feelings.  There were amazing highs, laugh out loud funny moments, and a lot of moments when I wanted more than anything to join Rhys’ gang of friends.  There were soul-crushing moments that made me cry and moments I wanted to hug Feyre and shield her from the world.  I was absolutely drawn into Feyre’s world and strongly invested in the characters which made A Court of Mist & Fury an emotional rollercoaster,
  • The steamy romance: Try not to judge me friends, but I have to admit the romance and the steaminess were definitely something I enjoyed!

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • Tamlin/Lucien: I found Tamlin and Lucien frustrating throughout the whole of A Court of Mist & Fury – I didn’t like their attitudes or their actions, and I never quite felt like their changes were believable.  I felt like both Tamlin & Lucien betrayed their characters in this installment, and that did grate a little.
  • The beginning: It took me a while to get really into A Court of Mist & Fury, and for some of that beginning I really couldn’t decide how I was feeling about everything.  Feyre is hurt, and different, and it makes complete sense that the story doesn’t instantly pick up with the same kind of pace – Feyre simply wouldn’t be able to handle it.  But somehow I found myself swinging back and forth between finding it believable and realistic, and finding it frustrating and slow.

The romance was one of the things I wasn’t 100% sold on in A Court of Thorns & Roses, and I’m pleased to say that A Court of Mist & Fury definitely changed my feelings.  My newfound love for the romance, combined with some truly awesome characters and relationships – both romantic and non-romantic – that I felt strongly about meant I enjoyed A Court of Mist & Fury even more than the first book.  Having said that, I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns & Roses that I wasn’t quite sold on the villains or their motivation, and sadly that remained true for A Court of Mist & Fury, so for me, it just didn’t quite hit the 5 star mark.

Other reviews of A Court of Mist & Fury: Lunar Rainbows | Happy Indulgence | Dani Reviews Things

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star