Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

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Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8 Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her? 

I think this might be the first book I’ve read with a protagonist suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and it felt so important because of that. The whole idea of the narrator having schizophrenia meant reality was constantly being questioned, and gave a magical realism level to the novel similar to that of Adam Silvera’s style of writing. It also allowed for some pretty big plot twists, which kept me constantly intrigued and engaged.

Although this is very much a contemporary novel, Alex’s schizophrenia left a mysterious element to the story. I found it so interesting how she used a camera and photography to try and capture the real to distinguish it from what was in her head. The only frustrating aspect of this was not always knowing what was real and what was happening inside Alex’s head.

I realized I wanted to kiss him. I didn’t know why.”

Alex’s story still tackled family, friendships and romance. Unfortunately I don’t think I fell for Miles as much as everybody else seemed to, although his character did become sweeter throughout the story. I found her relationships fascinating and heartwarming, especially the one she shared with her sister.

Although Alex’s story was emotional, I didn’t find it as heart-wrenching as I expected. The mystery was compelling but a little far fetched for me, so I lost a little connection with the book because of this. The mystery plot-line was fun, but that fun seemed to take away some of the emotional depth for me.

“Maybe it was the way he looked at me like I was the only thing he wanted to look at.”

Overall, this book was fascinating due to the main character having paranoid schizophrenia. It surprised me with the compelling plot twists and entertaining mystery element, but wasn’t quite as heart-wrenching as I wanted it to be and lacked some connection to me as a reader.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

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Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert. It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can’t give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you..

Since this book has been released, it’s been on my TBR. I adored Wing Jones, and have been keeping an eye on this author ever since. Thank you to Tavi for buying Only Love Can Break Your Heart for me off my wishlist!

Reiko is a heartbroken teenager who is dealing with the tragic loss of her sister. When she finds an unexpected friend in Seth, her world is turned upside down and she is forced to face her grief.

I wasn’t disappointed by this book, and I was drawn in from the first page. There was a certain level of comfort that came from Webber’s beautiful, poetic descriptions of the desert, and I found myself loving the locations as much as Reiko herself. Webber left me feeling like I was being enveloped in warmth every time I picked up this novel.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart explores topics in depth that I’ve hardly seen in YA, and found very interesting. This covered subjects such as grief, family, friendships and most importantly for me, social hierarchy. Social hierarchy is often not discussed in YA, especially from the viewpoint of those at the top of the social ladder. However, Reiko is unashamedly one of those people, and reading about her viewpoints were fascinating.

I had a love/hate relationship with Reiko throughout this book, unfortunately. Due to her attitude, she made many mistakes and some decisions which I frowned upon and found hard to relate to. I unfortunately felt the same about Seth as the book progressed, which left me feeling somehow betrayed. However, Reiko went through a lot of self development throughout the book and I left feeling reassured by the way she matures.

Overall, this book had compelling characters, a beautiful location and heart-wrenching plot line. Although I had problems with the characters at times, I would highly recommend this lovely story.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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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: Letters To the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.
Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.
When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

I sped through this book! Thank you to Brigid Kemmerer for finally getting me back into reading. I was so drawn into this emotional, intriguing contemporary that I read it over a couple of days and enjoyed it so much.

Declan and Juliet were both beautifully emotional and complex. They had their own backstories which were widely different from one another but both as heartbreaking. This worked so well and meant I sped through the book, flicking between the characters and their stories. The alternate chapters made the pages fly by, and seeing the story from both of their points of view was so interesting.

‘One day isn’t your whole life.’

With Declan being a young offender, I wondered if I would take so well to his story. But as it turns out, I quickly sympathised with him, and this became more intense as the story progressed. Juliet’s story broke my heart, and I found her so relatable on a personal level as her mother’s career and her own hobby were both photography. Her love for photography gave Juliet so much depth.

I found this novel was treading a fine line with anonymity, and could have gone very wrong in some ways. However, Kemmerer handled the subject incredibly well, and my worries were only fleeting. Unfortunately, I did have one concern throughout the entire novel, which was miscommunication between the characters. Later in the novel, I felt as though Juliet and Declan could have been communicating on a much better level, and it did begin to frustrate me.

‘A day is just a day.’

Overall, this is a contemporary with a twist. It’s tense, dark, emotional and beautiful. The characters are flawed but easy to sympathise with, and I’m sad to leave them behind.

★★★★ 
4 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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