ARC Review: Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy

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Pixie’s defenses are up, and it’s no wonder. She’s been uprooted, the chickens seem to have it in for her, and now her beloved sister, Charlotte, has been stricken with polio and whisked away into quarantine. So it’s not surprising Pixie lashes out. But her habit of making snap judgements–and giving her classmates nicknames like “Rotten Ricky” and “Big-Mouth Berta”–hasn’t won her any friends. At least life on the farm is getting better with the delivery of its newest resident–a runt baby lamb. Raising Buster takes patience and understanding–and this slowing down helps Pixie put things in better perspective. So too does paying attention to her neighbors, and finding that with the war on she’s not the only one missing someone. As Pixie pushes past her own pain to become a bigger person, she’s finally able to make friends; and to laugh about the fact that it is in places where she least expected it.

This was such a sweet middle grade book I sped through in a couple of sittings. I was grabbed by the premise, the gorgeous cover and the idea of having a book set on a farm in the 1940’s. It was such a cute read and I loved Pixie. She made me chuckle with her way of addressing her peers, calling them names and standing up for herself. She seemed like a plucky girl who is in the process of learning a lot about life, family and friends.

The cast of characters was broad and interesting to see all aspects of life over three generations, as Pixie lived with her dad and grandparents on the farm. Her sister is suffering from polio and being taken cared of in a hospital, which was such a heartfelt and sad storyline between the two sisters. I loved the depth this aspect of the story added to Pixie’s world, and the guilt she carried around believing she played a part in her sisters illness.

The farm was such a nice setting for this story, and gave Pixie her own battles to face as the story progressed. As she learned more about herself, the book tackled problems I didn’t expect, such as Pixie and her relationship to the farm animals.

Overall, this was a very sweet middle grade book which explored some deep and emotional situations and subjects.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne

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Amelie loved Reese. And she thought he loved her. But she’s starting to realise love isn’t supposed to hurt like this. So now she’s retracing their story and untangling what happened by revisiting all the places he made her cry.
Because if she works out what went wrong, perhaps she can finally learn to get over him.

This book is a reminder of how powerful words can be. A reminder of how they can make you cry, make you smile, and make you feel so much less alone. I’m lucky enough that I have never been through what Amelie went through in this book, but I have been in many similar places to her. I have cried in public. And I know how it feels when love doesn’t make you happy anymore.

Amelie’s story is such a powerful one and is unfortunately true of many women (and men) all over the world. Her relationship with Reese includes the most basic forms of manipulation and emotional abuse, which gradually strip her from her confidence and happiness.

‘It’s such a simple torture – the silent treatment. As basic as tripping someone over or pulling their chair out before they sit down. And yet it’s so very effective.’

Amelie can be a frustrating narrator at times as she is constantly making decisions that make you want to scream at her…but that’s kind of the point. She’s young, and manipulated against her better judgement. I know what it’s like to be young and in love, and I couldn’t be angry at Amelie for the choices she made. Talking of, I need to write a small warning into this post. It hit me hard, even though I haven’t experienced the vast majority of what Amelie did. It was still an incredibly painful and hard hitting read, which will stay with me forever.

Both Amelie, Reese and the other characters in this story are incredibly well written and developed. I feel like Bourne knew her characters inside out and this came across at all times. The only part I’m regretful about is feeling like I could have known Alfie (Amelie’s ex) better going into this story. Just a few more scenes with him may have helped me fully sympathise with what Amelie was leaving behind when she moved at the beginning of the book. Reese is especially well developed, and Bourne did an excellent job of writing his character so we felt exactly how Amelie did about him, through all of the love, charisma, hurt and anger.

The plot meant this book flew past. I love the switches between past and present, as it was a constant reminder of how all of these past events had made Amelie feel in the present day. It allowed the book to be just that little more hard hitting and effective.

‘When someone has the willpower to pretend you’re not there, it nullifies you. How do you fight against that humiliation?’

This was definitely my favourite of Bourne’s books so far, and I can really see how she’s developed as a writer. Amelie is now a young narrator to me, but I still felt all of the hurt and emotion that she did.

Above all, this book feels important. It’s one of those I can’t help but want to push into the hands of other young women out there, to understand that it’s normal to feel unhappy, it’s good to trust your gut and it’s okay to reach out and ask for help. It’s okay to cry in public.

CW: sexual and emotional abuse, PTSD.

★★★★★  
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (#1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

As always, I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to reading this book. It may have taken me a while to read it, but as a friend put it, I savoured this book rather than rushed through it. And it was still worth it in the end.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it had just the right balance for me of being a retelling and being original. The fairytale aspect was only a small part of the story, which left room for so much more.

‘We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals.’

This world felt so real and beautiful to me, and I pictured it as Hyrule in Breath of the Wild funnily enough. The characters were all great for their own reasons, especially Harper. We don’t have enough strong female protagonists, and having a disabled main character with Cerebral Palsy is so rare, especially in fantasy. Having not got a disability myself, I can’t talk about the accuracy of the writing from her point of view, but I really admired her all the same.

Rhen wasn’t my favourite character, but I grew to know and love him all the same. Reading about him was fascinating, as he turned out to be a different person as the book progressed, but his progression felt entirely natural.

Even though it took me a while to get through, when I did manage to sit down and read, the pages seemed to fly by. So it definitely wasn’t a problem with the pacing, but instead with my situation in the past month!

‘The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.’

Unfortunately I’m not giving this book a full 5 stars, purely because I didn’t feel quite as drawn in as I’d have liked to. Although my pacing was partly to do with my own situation, I also feel like I could have been more drawn into the story and made to want to pick it up.

★★★★ 
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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American Royals (#1) by Katherine McGee

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Meet the Washingtons – the most scandalous royal family ever!
HRH Princess Samantha has always been a royal rebel. She’s the spare not the heir, so no one minds too much who she dates or how hard she parties.
It helps that her sister, Princess Beatrice, is literally perfect. She’s demure, sweet and beautiful, and she knows that the crown always comes first – no matter what her heart might really want.
But they’re not the only ones with their eye on the throne. Daphne Deighton might be ‘newly noble’ but she won Prince Jefferson’s heart once, and she’ll do anything to get back into the court’s favour – and his bed.
If only she knew that her competition was a common nobody – plain little Nina Gonzalez, the daughter of the king’s secretary.
Together these four young women must navigate the drama, gossip, scheming and sizzling romance of the most glorious court in the world. There’s everything to play for – but there can only be one queen.

I’m pleased to say I enjoyed this book much more than I expected. I’m not going to say my expectations were low, as such, but this is not necessarily a book I’m usually drawn to. I ended up picking it up at YALC as an ARC, and was very pleasantly surprised when I really enjoyed it!

This book is definitely what it says on the tin. It’s a fun, entertaining novel about a hypothetical royal family in America, re-imagining history for the Washington family. To be blunt, I expected it to all be slightly trashy, and to a degree that is what this book delivered. Above all, it was entertaining, and drew me in because of it’s reality-TV style.

I actually thought the multiple POV was handled incredibly well once I found myself captivated in the story. Each of the four women was distinct enough to have their own story, and drew me in in their own weird and wonderful ways. Having the differences between them kept the book intriguing and fast paced.

I have to liken this book to The Selection series in a lot of ways, with the same levels of guilty-pleasure, but with a little more depth. I like both of the series for different reasons, and if you liked one then I’d recommend the other!

Overall, this was a fun, dramatic read that flew by. It wasn’t perfect and was still trashy in some ways, but I still found it very enjoyable!

★★★★ 
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow (#2) by Natasha Ngan

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Lei, the naive country girl who became a royal courtesan, is now known as the Moonchosen, the commoner who managed to do what no one else could. But slaying the cruel Demon King wasn’t the end of the plan—it’s just the beginning. Now Lei and her warrior love Wren must travel the kingdom to gain support from the far-flung rebel clans. The journey is made even more treacherous thanks to a heavy bounty on Lei’s head, as well as insidious doubts that threaten to tear Lei and Wren apart from within.
Meanwhile, an evil plot to eliminate the rebel uprising is taking shape, fueled by dark magic and vengeance. Will Lei succeed in her quest to overthrow the monarchy and protect her love for Wren, or will she fall victim to the sinister magic that seeks to destroy her?

I was so grateful to manage to get an ARC of this book at YALC earlier this year (and get it signed by the beautiful Natasha!). I adored Girls of Paper and Fire and I was super excited for this one!

Girls of Storm and Shadow didn’t disappoint and it was great to be back in this world. Not only did we get to see more of it, but we also see beautiful descriptions of the world outside of the palace. It was so nice to feel more involved in the lush scenery and landscape of the surrounding world and palaces.

Lei has been one of my favourite female m/c’s in recent YA, and I adored her relationship with Wren. Seeing the relationship continue and develop under difficult circumstances felt so real and I loved reading about it. So many YA books don’t talk about relationships after the honeymoon period and seeing them dealing with what they went through in Girls of Paper and Fire was so needed. This book was focused around healing, and some of the more emotional scenes resonated with me deeply.

I really enjoyed the magic in Girls of Storm and Shadow, which I felt was discussed more than in the first book. It made the action scenes so intense and I flew through this in just a few days because of the well written, vivid action.

Even though I did love this book, I did unfortunately have more problems than with the first book, which was gutting as I adored it so much. I don’t know if it’s because I had a break between reading Girls of Paper and Fire and this one, but I found the side characters hard to follow, relate to or even sympathise with. I just wish there had been more character development to make the emotional scenes hit home a little more.

Another reason is I found the Moon Caste (fully demons) and Steel Caste (partly demon) characters very hard to picture. At one point, which stuck with me, Lei mentions how a Moon Caste is three times her height. Like, how does that actually work? I logistically can’t picture a world in which people are three times the heights of others. It’s not a big deal, but it bugged me a little.

Overall, this book was a great sequel and I loved being back in the world of Girls of Paper and Fire, one of my favourite books of the year so far! I wish this had lived up to the first, but it was still very enjoyable.

★★★★ 
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

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Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s so unfortunate that I didn’t enjoy this book. It sounded so intriguing and like such a unique concept, but I was very disappointed with the book itself. I wish it hadn’t been such a let down!

The only way I can possibly think to describe The Marrow Thieves is it feels like there’s so much missing. Like, if I didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, I would have had no clue what was actually happening throughout the novel. It feels like nothing is ever explained in full and everything is quite a random series of events. I wouldn’t have been shocked if I found out someone had actually ripped pages or whole chapters out of my copy. This improved slightly towards the end of the book, but only as I became more involved in the story, and no where enough to recover from the disappointment.

‘Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living,’

Unfortunately, the plot wasn’t the only problem. The characters also felt majorly underdeveloped and I struggled to connect with their stories because of it. Most of them were just names on the pages for me, and that meant the connection I should have felt in emotional scenes was just lost. I feel like the author concentrated fully on only a few of the characters, only one of whom I actually liked, and the others got lost along the way.

The reason I’m giving this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because the writing isn’t bad at all. At points, I even found myself sucked into some of the short stories within this larger story. In fact, I think this author could write some brilliant short stories and maybe they would be more developed and her forte?

‘even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to see it.’

Overall, the concept was interesting but left unexplored and underdeveloped. I’d love to read more books exploring indigenous people and it’s definitely something I’d like to see more of, but this was a major disappointment with few things going for it. It’s definitely not the worst or most annoying book I’ve read, but it was by far from the best.

★★ 
2 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

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Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see …
16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?
When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass—or the people by her side.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC copy of this I won in a raffle at YALC 2019! This book is scheduled for release on October 1st, 2019.

I stormed through this book in around a day. I can be a fairly quick reader when I want to be, but under 2 days is always quick for me, and I literally didn’t put this one down. I always love books that can hold my attention as I struggle to read for 100s of pages at a time usually, but I read this in only a couple of sittings.

Reading from the perspective of a burns survivor was so interesting and heart wrenching at times. Ava’s story (and the stories of those around her) absolutely broke my heart and made me feel so sympathetic towards her. She was not without her faults, but I think her low times only showed how much she’d come through and how much of a warrior she was.

The writing and plot were definitely the strongest points for me. This is a story of Ava and her family/friends returning from one of the hardest things they will ever have to go through. It’s a story of growth and acceptance for all involved and I appreciated seeing it from a year after the fire, rather than directly afterwards. I felt there had been enough time since the fire to focus on moving forward and developing a new life, but of course still facing difficult and emotional issues.

I’d like to take a moment to mention how much I adored Ava’s family. Her adoptive parents, her aunt and uncle, faced so many hardships of her own having lost their own daughter to the same fire that left Ava scarred. The book didn’t shy away from their own struggles of facing a life without their daughter, but adopting their niece. I think if this hadn’t have been discussed, it would have left a massive hole in the narrative.

So, why not 5 stars? I don’t want to say this book lacked depth, because that would be a lie, but half of me wishes it had made me cry. It was such a quick and easy read for such an emotive subject, and although it moved me, I didn’t feel as gut-wrenchingly sad as I could have. It just felt like it needed an extra push, and I think that was partly down to character development.

That being said, this book was a very important read and one I’m glad to be seeing in 2019 YA. Watch this space!

★★★★ 
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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