Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

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Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.
Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love.
But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?
Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . .

It’s been 5 years since I originally picked this book up, and it was so interesting to give this one a re-read. I wasn’t necessarily planning on picking this one back up anytime soon, but I ended up impromptu-ly buddy reading it with a friend. The first time I read this book, I finished it in a day, and I’m not surprised. I didn’t quite read it in a day this time, but I was quickly drawn back into the story and sped through it when I picked it up.

The premise for this book is interesting, and definitely keeps you reading as it becomes darker and develops into more of a thriller. However, there is a lot of plot-holes to do with the setting and situation of Romy, our main character, who has been alone in space for many years following the death of her parents. But if you manage to overlook these and not compare the book to real-life too much, it’s a highly enjoyable read.

I just want someone who holds on.

I was 17 when I read this book for the first time, and I definitely found it much easier to relate to Romy as a main character. Now I’m 22, and I must say Romy could come across as quite annoying and naive (which is natural due to her situation). I did still relate to the discussions of her anxiety, however, and felt like her panic attacks were written well and still made me feel emotionally connected to her as a character.

The setting was interesting and I could picture the spaceship well. This book clocks in at just under 300 pages so is pretty short, but there is still really only one setting throughout the story. Despite this, it kept my interest and never felt small, just right, in fact.

 Someone who won’t ever let me go, whatever tries to tear us apart. Is that too much to ask?

If you’re looking for a gripping, fast-paced YA sci-fi romance, this is definitely up there. Although I had a few more pet-peeves now than I did as a teenager, I still found this one highly enjoyable to read and was captivated by the story.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

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For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize’s cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.
Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York’s past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.

I saw this book around a couple of months ago and immediately pre-ordered it. I loved the concept of this book so much, which slightly reminded me of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, one of my favourite books. The idea of a city-wide game sounds like such a unique idea and I was super excited to find out more about the concept.

I listened to the audiobook for this one, which I must say I felt quite hard to get into. It might be more me, or the book itself, rather than the audiobook, but I often felt like I wasn’t concentrating enough on the story.

It was in ourselves, and no matter what happened,

There was definitely a horror element to this one which intrigued me, and I liked the atmosphere. This felt like a love letter to the Bronx, which I enjoyed, and I could picture the settings well. But unfortunately, I just didn’t connect to the story as much as I hoped to at all.

I liked the characters enough, but definitely didn’t feel an emotional connection to them, which I realised most when it didn’t get to me when big things happened.

that would always be part of our legacy.

Overall, this book just didn’t quite match up to expectations. I did enjoy it, but the concept was more enthralling for me than the book itself. I would read more from Tirado in the future, though!

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Lore Olympus (#2) by Rachel Smythe

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Persephone was ready to start a new life when she left the mortal realm for Olympus. However, she quickly discovered the dark side of her glamorous new home—from the relatively minor gossip threatening her reputation to a realm-shattering violation of her safety by the conceited Apollo—and she’s struggling to find her footing in the fast-moving realm of the gods. Hades is also off-balance, fighting against his burgeoning feelings for the young goddess of spring while maintaining his lonely rule of the Underworld. As the pair are drawn ever closer, they must untangle the twisted webs of their past and present to build toward a new future.
This full-color edition of Smythe’s original Eisner-nominated webcomic Lore Olympus features a brand-new, exclusive short story, and brings Greek mythology into the modern age in a sharply perceptive and romantic graphic novel.

I read the first volume of Lore Olympus after my friend Amy recommended it late last year, and I was very excited to pick up volume 2. I actually preferred Volume 2 to Volume 1, which was just as beautiful but had more focus on the relationship between Persephone and Hades. I once again sped through this volume, which is detailed in drawing but doesn’t have a massive amount of text to read through.

The art is absolutely beautiful, and I loved the colour combinations once again. Each character has their own colour, which I really love as it separates each character clearly and makes it easy to focus on the story without being confused about each character.

I’m loving this series and I definitely preferred this volume to the first one, so I can’t wait to see where it goes in future volumes! Just make sure to check content warnings (which are also listed at the start of the book) if you’d like to pick it up.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

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In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose – someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more – for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.
When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancée, a whole world is opened up to Bea – a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?
With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love…
A long, hot summer of kisses and mischief unfolds – but storm clouds are gathering across Europe, and home is calling. Every summer has to end – but for Bea, this might be just the beginning.

Every time I read a Laura Wood book, I find that I’ve deeply underestimated her writing. I read her debut, A Sky Painted Gold last year, and really enjoyed it, and this one was even better. I did enjoy that A Sky Painted Gold was based on The Great Gatsby, whereas Under a Dancing Star is based on Much Ado About Nothing. I don’t really know the Shakespeare story well, but it definitely didn’t take away from my enjoyment at all.

This book is perfect for summer, and the Italian setting was so beautiful. I could really picture the beautiful house and gardens, and it was so atmospheric. I read this book alongside Courtney and we read it over the course of one summer evening. There couldn’t have been a perfect time or setting (unless we had actually gone to Italy!) to read this book.

The idea is as paper-thin and fragile as the wings of a butterfly, 

Bea was such a great main character who felt so relatable despite this book being set almost 100 years ago. I hardly read historical fiction, but Bea jumped off the page and had so much depth to her character. I loved reading about her passion for nature, and the descriptions of plants and wildlife added so much to the reading experience.

The romance was so sweet to read about and I loved Ben and Bea together. Their situation made me chuckle at times but the dates were so swoony to read and I love that they had shared experiences. The banter between them felt quite natural and was entertaining to read.

and as it flutters gently awake I hardly dare to hold it still in my mind.

I honestly loved this book and I definitely will be carrying on with Laura Wood’s books – she is the queen of YA historical romance!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

I read Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by the same author last year, and I’ve wanted to read The Henna Wars ever since! I picked this up alongside Courtney while we were away, and it was great to read together. We also listened to a big chunk on audio, which we enjoyed too and was easy to follow.

This book discusses a lot of heavy issues, including racism and homophobia. These issues are dealt with well in the contemporary, school setting, but can sometimes be difficult to read (see a list in the front of the book for content warnings).

What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.

Nishat and Flávia definitely grew on me as the book went on, but I must say I did feel like there were a few issues glossed over within the book. Although all of my concerns were addressed, I sometimes wanted a bit more of a discussion before we moved on. I’m unsure if it’s just that there was a lack of physical space within the story, but this did lead to me feeling that some situations were slightly glossed over and brushed under the rug.

The concept of this book was unique and added an extra layer to the story with the girls’ businesses. I also found that the dialogue was really funny in places, and made me and Courtney chuckle a few times while reading. The romance was also really sweet, and it was cute to see the initial dates between the two girls and watch them realise they were falling for one another.

What I want is for my parents to be outraged that someone betrayed me, not ashamed of my identity.

Overall, this book had some brilliant discussions about race and homophobia, but could sometimes feel a bit young for me personally and like some of the difficult topics were glossed over.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So

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Elsie has a crush on Ada, the only person in the world who truly understands her. Unfortunately, they’ve never met in real life and Ada lives an ocean away. But Elsie has decided it’s now or never to tell Ada how she feels. That is, until her long-lost best friend Joan walks back into her life.
In a summer of repairing broken connections and building surprising new ones, Elsie realises that she isn’t nearly as alone as she thought. But now she has a choice to make…

I had very high hopes for this book, and it didn’t let me down. I don’t read too much YA anymore, but this one definitely fell to the older end of YA, which I appreciated. At first, Elsie felt quite young and some of the comments she was making did make her seem a little immature. But I definitely saw her change and grow as the book went on, and she did seem to mature throughout.

There was definitely a lot of nostalgia for Tumblr-era fanfiction, and I really enjoyed reading about Elsie’s love for comic books and the fact she ends up working in a comic-book shop was relatable to me as a bookseller too!

Maybe loving someone shouldn’t feel like missing them.

Elsie doesn’t always make the best choices, but these are justified and discussed with the people around her for the most part, and in the few instances where it felt like these decisions affected those around her, they were usually faced in some way. I did really like the side-characters and there was a lot of mystery surrounding Elsie’s family history which I really enjoyed reading about and kept me reading on.

I read this book with Courtney on holiday, and we read it in less than 24 hours. There was so much depth to the characters and I loved the exploration of identity and sexuality that was discussed throughout. Elsie is Chinese-British and there was a lot of introspective discussion of this.

Like you’re constantly reaching for something that isn’t close enough.

This book had a lot of heavy discussions and I loved the way it made me think. It felt quite emotional and the idea of loss was prevalent throughout – loss of friends, time, love, family, contact. There was so much to love and I’m so glad I picked this up alongside Courtney.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Children of Blood and Bone (#1) by Tomi Adeyemi

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They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

I’ve been meaning to read this series for such a long time, and I finally picked it up as a buddy read with my friend Courtney on our reading holiday this year. We listened to the start on audio and picked up the rest in physical format. This book is quite a chunky fantasy at over 500 pages, and it did feel daunting for both of us going in, but we quickly found it quite easy to read and not as intimidating as either of us expected.

This book is quite an intricate epic fantasy but it is YA, and felt quite accessible to read and dive in. The pacing was really well done, and I did find it quite quick to read. I must say though, it did feel very long and at times felt like a bit of a slog to get through.

I teach you to be warriors in the garden

I really liked the main characters, of which we have four and this book is told from multiple perspectives. There is two main romances, which I didn’t mind but never really connected with necessarily, they were both a bit too instant for me. I also found that because we had a number of main protagonists, there was quite a few side characters, and because of the sheer amount of names to remember, I never felt connected. There were a couple of instances where something would happen to one of the side characters, and although the main characters were affected, I didn’t feel….anything.

There is a lot crammed into these pages, and the plot was super fast paced. There was a number of times where I felt like the next part of the story would take the majority of the book, and it would then only take a couple of chapters to progress. I didn’t mind this too much, but it was a lot to take in.

so you will never be gardeners in the war.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and I will be continuing with the series. It wasn’t perfect and I did have a few annoyances, but I can see why this book gets a lot of love.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Princess Princess Ever After by Kay O’Neill

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When the heroic princess Amira rescues the kind-hearted princess Sadie from her tower prison, neither expects to find a true friend in the bargain. Yet as they adventure across the kingdom, they discover that they bring out the very best in the other person. They’ll need to join forces and use all the know-how, kindness, and bravery they have in order to defeat their greatest foe yet: a jealous sorceress, who wants to get rid of Sadie once and for all. Join Sadie and Amira, two very different princesses with very different strengths, on their journey to figure out what “happily ever after” really means—and how they can find it with each other.

I read The Tea Dragon Society last year and absolutely loved it, and quickly knew I wanted to read all of Kay O’Neill’s back catalog. When I recently came across Princess Princess Ever After in Gay’s the Word in London (a brilliant independent LGBTQIA+ bookshop I’d highly recommend), I decided to pick it up. This one is super short at only 80 pages, and is following Sadie and Amira, two princesses as they adventure across the kingdom and attempt to defeat a jealous sorceress.

This one was very short and sweet, with a beautiful art style and some great dialogue that made me chuckle along the way. The romance was so cute and left me feeling very happy at the end of the story. I’m so excited to track down a copy of Aquarian Cove, the only graphic novel by Kay O’Neill that I have yet to read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Mina and the Undead (#1) by Amy McCaw

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17-year-old Mina, from England, arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged sister, Libby. After growing up in Whitby, the town that inspired Dracula, Mina loves nothing more than a creepy horror movie.
She can’t wait to explore the city’s darkest secrets – vampire tours, seedy bars, spooky cemeteries, disturbing local myths…
And it gets even better when Mina lands a part-time job at a horror movie mansion and meets Jared, Libby’s gorgeous housemate, co-worker and fellow horror enthusiast.
But the perfect summer bliss is broken when, while exploring the mansion, Mina stumbles upon the body of a girl with puncture marks on her neck, clutching a lock of hair that suspiciously resembles Libby’s…
Someone is replicating New Orleans’ most brutal supernatural killings. Mina must discover the truth and prove her sister’s innocence before she becomes the victim of another myth.

I’ve wanted to read this book for such a long time, and recently finally picked it up! This book is a must read for any YA gothic/horror fans, and a perfect summer read. I love the setting of New Orleans, which also crops up in V.E. Schwab’s series City of Ghosts in the last book, Bridge of Souls. My love for that book and series made me want to pick Mina and the Undead even more, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Mina is from Whitby, which was so fun to hear discussed as I’ve visited Whitby a number of times and I could picture it perfectly. New Orleans also makes for such an atmospheric setting, with the horror house being a great summer location for the book. There’s a number of undertones to this book, from romance to mystery, and I really enjoyed finding out what was happening with the killings.

This book is steeped in 80s/90s culture and nostalgia, but younger readers won’t be lost, either. I loved the references to various horror films (The Lost Boys especially!) and felt the same aura as Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series, a series I have fond memories of.

I really enjoyed Mina as a character and the tension between her and her sister Libby was well-written. I also enjoyed the friendships and relationships explored. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the series goes with the next instalment, Mina and the Slayers, only a couple of weeks away now!

I would also like to say I adore the design of this book cover/design in general – it’s so clever.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Some Mistakes Were Made by Kristen Dwyer

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Ellis and Easton have been inseparable since childhood. But when a rash decision throws Ellis’s life—and her relationship with Easton— into chaos she’s forced to move halfway across the country, far from everything she’s ever known.
Now Ellis hasn’t spoken to Easton in a year, and maybe it’s better that way; maybe eventually the Easton shaped hole in her heart will heal. But when Easton’s mother invites her home for a celebration, Ellis finds herself tangled up in the web of heartache, betrayal, and anger she left behind… and with the boy she never stopped loving.

Sometimes, you just need a YA romance/contemporary that you know is going to leave your heart aching and reforming all over again. That you know will bring back your teen angst and make you grieve those long lost years.

I picked this book up at YALC because the cover and synopsis really called out to me. I ended up listening to the audiobook, and I really enjoyed it. I also knew I wanted to pick this up in the summer, and I’m glad I decided to. It felt like a sad, angsty summer contemporary, and was just perfect for the time.

When did we get here? At this place of tallied wrongs and rights.

I really liked (and in a lot of ways, related to) Ellis. She is not perfect, she has been through a lot and has been left feeling heartbroken and shattered. She’s at a place in her life when she’s trying to figure out the next step for her, while struggling to let go of everything that happened in her life a year or more ago.

This book is completely about found family, with darker undertones about the family you’re born into verses the family you create. I was also drawn into the stories of those around Ellis – such as the parents and siblings of Easton. There is just so much to be wrapped up in.

This place where we speak the same language but cannot understand each other’s words.

If you’re looking for a YA romance that makes you nostalgic for teen readers but still feels a little older, check this one out. I loved so much about this book, and I would definitely like to re-read it in the future. It’s not often I ally with a publishing company, but HarperTeen does it again!

A rare occasion where I’ve decided to up my star rating from 4 stars to 4.5 stars on reflection after a few weeks, because I’m still thinking about this book.

★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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