Mark’s Review: In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk

Hello all, a little note before we begin to present you with a second review from Mark – my partner in crime, and sometimes, in reading. We occasionally will read a little together before going to sleep, read a few pages of our favourite books to one another, or even read together on a lovely summertime picnic, like pictured below. We always both have a book (or several!) on the go, and I’m here today to give you Mark’s review of one of the books he’s recently read, In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk.

Lindsey Kelk, In Case You Missed It (2020)

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When Ros comes home after three years away, she’s ready to pick up with life exactly where she left it. But her friends have moved on, her parents have rekindled their romance, and her bedroom is now a garden shed. All of a sudden, she’s swept up in nostalgia for the way things were.
Then her phone begins to ping, with messages from her old life. Including one number she thought she’d erased for good – the man who broke her heart. Is this her second chance at one big love? Sometimes we all want to see what we’ve been missing…

It’s best to start by admitting, at this point, I am unashamedly a fan of Lindsey Kelk. So feel free to call this a review, but definitely a biased one. Though know that I hope to convey a sample of my enjoyment in the hope you might find something similar in this, or another, of Kelk’s books.

The first time I read anything by Kelk it was unintentional and, I must shyly admit, in jest. At some point around 7 years ago in the kitchen of a shared house, I did a dramatic reading of a section of What A Girl Wants. A week later, after wondering what happened in the story after (and before) my performance piece I found myself ordering a copy of that book and the one that came before it. The Tess Brookes trilogy ended up helping me get through a very busy and incredibly stressful multi work contract year and ever since then Kelk’s novels have serendipitously arrived as the perfect…indulgence? Distraction? I am not sure what to call it… It’s honestly like a holiday with old friends when you didn’t realise you needed one.

As my interruptions in Beth’s blog will retrospectively prove, I’m not a massive reader of fiction and, even then, often not particularly contemporary fiction. So Kelk’s work is something of a rarity to me and I am probably a rarity in her traditional audience. Kelk is someone who’s books I will now blindly pick up and have, looking back, had with me during significant times over the last few years. One was in my kit bag shooting the last short film. Another I scoured late night supermarkets for to take with me for my first international marathon. And so we get to 2020 and In Case You Missed It. As the first lockdown in England was ending and, from the 10-15 hours of news I was still watching per day, I knew the rollercoaster ride was far from over, Beth messaged me one morning – simply “New Lindsey Kelk book!”.

As ever, Kelk writes a warm story, but one that will occasionally challenge you, yet always make you feel part of the gang. The story is the perfection of formula. Proof that something done well doesn’t have to be revolutionary to be fresh and work elegantly. You could call the outcome early on if you were given to, but if you did you would be missing the point. As with the best stories, the joy is not where it’s going but how you get there. Going on the ride and engaging with what it makes both you and the characters feel. This is neatly also a wider theme in the book, one that I was surprised to find oddly profound at points. Discovering that your life and your loved ones aren’t quite who you thought they were. Just as Ros raced back to London, I wonder how many of us will want to race back to some idealised old life when we call the pandemic officially over? And what we will later realise we missed along the way.

‘It has been a while, what if he’s changed?’
‘He could have been turned into a unicorn that’s tasked with protecting the Holy Grail and I still wouldn’t think it was a good idea to text him,’  she said, bluntly as ever ‘You were together six months and it’s taken you three years to get over him. Don’t do this to yourself.’
‘it was nine months,’ I corrected. ‘Almost ten.’

The book weaves a way through a range of memorably awkward locales in a convincingly homely London, a converted garden shed, a dark disco, a suburban tennis club, all on a collision course with both a video games convention and Ros’ Parents renewal of vows (which, thinking about it, my parents also did last year!). I have probably been reading this book since that day Beth brought me back a copy. Picking it up and putting it down, reading it through 2 more lockdowns. Never quite wanting it to end, but always finding it comfortable to come back to after say, the chaos of my return to work or whatever rude word you want to use to describe last Christmas. In Case You Missed It is like a hug from an old friend, right before they call you an embarrassing schoolyard nickname, on a night spent talking about the past and the future. It’s a friendly book about where we’re going in life, having nostalgic feelings but dealing with the reality of now.

‘We tend to assume we’re entitled to the things we have, we rewrite history to make life easier for ourselves. It’s not the case, Ros.’
‘I know, mum’ I said quietly.

From a lakeside read on a summer picnic (pictured above) to finishing it in the bath mere hours ago, I was once again happy to have been on a Lindsey Kelk adventure, with a set of new but invitingly familiar characters, during another weirdly intense period in time. With another book due next year, I find myself wondering…. what possible journey we’ll all go on next?

______________

It’s a random end note that, as a lifelong fan of pro wrestling, I always spotted occasional references in Kelk’s work that seemed too specific to be accidental. Later I would realise she is also a fan and now go looking for these nods, again this book didn’t disappoint. So this time, to bring my own, I used a WCW Arn Anderson trading card as a bookmark. No one needs to know this and the book itself will never appreciate it, but I had to tell someone to make it less odd.

-Mark

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker by Lauren James

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What if death is only the beginning?
When Harriet Stoker dies after falling from a balcony in a long-abandoned building, she discovers a group of ghosts, each with a special power.
Felix, Kasper, Rima and Leah welcome Harriet into their world, eager to make friends with the new arrival after decades alone. Yet Harriet is more interested in unleashing her own power, even if it means destroying everyone around her. But when all of eternity is at stake, the afterlife can be a dangerous place to make an enemy.

Lauren James never fails to blow my mind with her books. She has written some of the most original, unique stories I’ve ever read. Every time I read something new by her, I am astounded by her creativity and imagination. I always forget how amazing the twists and turns are, and how the endings absolutely hook you. I was left shocked in places with all of the plot twists, most of which I didn’t see coming! Whereas Lauren James usually writes science fiction, this book is very much paranormal.

This book starts with Harriet Stoker, a uni student who goes into an abandoned building in the grounds of her university to take photos, and falls to her death. She then becomes a ghost who is stuck in the building alongside every other ghost who has died on the grounds over the years. Harriet becomes frightened and in a panic, tries desperately to return to her grandmother. This makes her try everything and anything, making deals with the darker souls of the building and taking things from others.

Those early humans weren’t interested in entertainment. It hadn’t been invented yet. 

I found Harriet a very unlikable character for most of this story, which made me struggle to sympathise with her. I always struggle to truly enjoy a book where I dislike the main character, which is sadly what I found for most of this novel. Although she does have a redemption arc, and she isn’t the only one with a POV, it just felt like a large chunk of the book was not as enjoyable for me because of it.

We do learn more about why Harriet acts the way she does, which I very much appreciated and could sympathise with her more. She is also part of an amazing group of ghosts, centered around a particular friendship group, most of whom passed away in 1994 as residents of the building when it was student accommodation. This friendship group had such a lovely ‘found family’ feel to it which I loved, and the characters were really diverse. This was probably the best part of the book for me, alongside the amazing ending!

There were no happy endings or romance or heroes. The stories nearly always ended in death. 

I did find quite a lot of this book quite slow, and I did really notice the fact it was all set in one place. The ending almost makes up for it in terms of pace, as it is quite a payoff, but I still had mixed feelings about the pacing,

Overall, this was an incredibly creative read with some really well developed, interesting characters and amazing plot twists. Not everything was perfect, but it had such a great atmosphere and was such an easy, engaging read to fly through!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: Hero at the Fall (#3) by Alwyn Hamilton

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Once, in the desert country of Miraji, there was a Sultan without an heir.
The heir had been killed by his own brother, the treacherous Rebel Prince, who was consumed by jealousy and sought the throne for himself.
Or so it was said by some. There were others who said that the Rebel Prince was not a traitor but a hero…
In the final battle for the throne, Amani must fight for everything she believes in, but with the rebellion in pieces, and the Sultan’s armies advancing across the desert plains, who will lead, who will triumph, who will live and who will die?

My first thought after finishing this series is it is so underrated. I found them on a table in a bookshop years ago, and have heard little about them since, especially online. I enjoyed this more than some of the biggest YA fantasy/dystopian series and they should definitely have more hype! First of all, this series has been so unique and I loved the fact it was set in a desert. The worldbuilding in this series has been excellent and I could picture the desert and palace so clearly.

One of my favourite parts of this series was the friendship group, which had a real found family aspect to it. Although in this particular book I felt there was a little lack of character development and some of the side characters were a little interchangeable, the main few I really liked. Their banter and discussions felt natural and even made me chuckle in places. The end of the book was absolute roller-coaster and I had tears in my eyes in places. I really liked Amani and Jin’s relationship and the connection they had was beautifully written.

But even if the desert forgot a thousand and one of our stories, it was enough that they would tell of us at all. 

This last book was definitely the most action filled, which made it a very quick read. But unfortunately for me, I didn’t like it quite as much as the second, which I think was my favourite. I tend to prefer character focused books that I can feel a real connection to, rather than action packed books that leave me feeling a little disconnected from the characters. That’s how I felt about this book, just a little too disconnected from the characters to enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. The last part of this book almost made up for the parts I didn’t find quite so clear, but not quite. The ending reminded me of the end of Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses when you just don’t know what is going to happen to the characters, or whether they will be okay.

Amani was an amazing, strong, brave female main character throughout this whole series, and she was one of my favourite things about it. She was such a great role model and I love how Jin complemented her but it was always clear she could be just fine on her own. It is subtle and in the background of the books until they are together and they burn so brightly, I loved seeing them together.

That long after our deaths, men and women sitting around a fire would hear that once, long ago, before we were all just stories, we lived.

Overall, I really liked this series. It was such a unique twist on YA fantasy and I haven’t read anything else quite like it. Also, it’s worth mentioning the covers are drop dead gorgeous!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

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What does persuasion mean – a firm belief, or the action of persuading someone to think something else? Anne Elliot is one of Austen’s quietest heroines, but also one of the strongest and the most open to change. She lives at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a time of accident, adventure, the making of new fortunes and alliances.

Yay for my first Jane Austen book, second classic of the year and first one of my Wordsworth set that I am actually reading this copy of! This is a book Mark recommended to me, and I knew I wanted it to be the first one I read in this set. If a cold Autumn day is the best time to read a Jane Austen book, maybe a snowy winter one can be second. I felt so cosy settling down with this book in the evenings with my fairylights on, it was just perfect.

Like many classics, I did find this a little dense. I’m not much of a classics reader usually (I’m really trying to get into them this year a little more!). I always find it takes me a while to settle into a classic and get used to the writing. I also have to get used to it taking me around double the amount of time it takes me to read YA fantasy and contemporary which I’m reading for most of the time! I definitely think a reread would be beneficial.

I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.

Something that really surprised me about this book was how humorous I found it. The writing is so poetic and beautiful, but also funny. Austen can be sassy and brutal and I loved it, it made me chuckle to myself in parts. I loved the writing in every sense, other than it being naturally a little difficult to read due to just not being used to the time period. It was lyrical and I wanted to savour it, and I definitely made sure to take my time with it and really appreciate the writing.

Anne made for a very likable main character and her discussions of love, friendship, women in society and family were so interesting and well done. I loved the subtle romance between her and Captain Wentworth, which was pining but not overwhelming to the story. The letter everyone talks about when it comes to this book is so beautiful and such a high point for this book. I love how we spend the whole book with Anne, to see the letter in return. What a beautiful scene.

None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.

Overall, this was a beautifully told tale full of romance, lust and persistence. I felt very involved in the story, I loved the setting and the writing, and I can’t wait to read more from Jane Austen!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Traitor to the Throne (#2) by Alwyn Hamilton

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Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible.
Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

I’m reading this series with Alex and we’re really enjoying it! I liked Rebel of the Sands a lot but I wasn’t sure where this story would go. However, I actually enjoyed this more than the first book. It was even more of an emotional rollercoaster with so many twists and turns, me and Alex were messaging each other every day with our reactions and there were a lot of ‘did you get to this bit yet?’ messages too. Having read the first book, I felt a lot less daunted by this one and enjoyed it a lot more than going into the first one with no background to the characters and their story.

Again, I loved Amani as a main character. She is such a strong female lead, and the romance takes a backseat but I still really like the relationship Amani and Jin have. It feels like Amani is complemented by Jin rather than being supported by him, which I really liked. I also loved the supporting cast of characters yet again, and Sam was a great addition to the story. I feel like having a new character introduced into the second book in the series really helps boost the story and Sam made me laugh so much.

But then, this was what the desert did to us. 

I really liked the setting of this book. Rather than being the wider desert, it’s set in a palace which I loved. I felt like I could picture the palace so clearly and having the majority of the book being set in the palace helped a lot. I definitely preferred it being set around the palace than the wider desert! Looking back, I feel like this book should have been a slow burner. But although it’s hard to tell with this being a buddy read and reading a set amount of pages a day, I feel like this was actually quite a quick read. I just wanted to keep reading as this book just had so much tension.

Once again in this book, I really liked the found family element of this story. Even though Amani is on her own in the palace throughout this, she is surrounded from a distance by her supportive friends. I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional in places but genuinely chuckle to myself in others. These books kind of have it all!

It made us dreamers with weapons.

I’m very glad to say this book definitely didn’t have second book syndrome, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see what the last book has to give!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

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For Penny Lee, high school was a nonevent. She got decent grades, had a few friends, and even a boyfriend by senior year but basically she was invisible. Having just graduated from high school, she’s heading off to college in Austin, Texas, and she’s ready for it.
Sam has had a rougher time over the last few years. He grew up in a trailer park and had to bail when he caught his addict mom taking out credit cards in his name to buy more crap from the Home Shopping Network. He gets a job at a café whose owner is kind enough to let him crash on a mattress in a spare room upstairs. He wants to go to film school and become a great director but at the moment he has $17 in his checking account and his laptop is dying.
When Penny and Sam cross paths it’s not exactly a Hollywood meet cute: they’re both too socially awkward for that. But they exchange numbers and stay in touch—almost entirely by text message, a form that allows them to get to know each other while being witty and snarky and intimate without the uncomfortable weirdness of, you know, actually having to see each other in person. 

I expected to like this book. Hell, a part of me thought I might even love it. But I didn’t expect to find an emotional connection to it so deep that it made me cry.

This book is the story of Penny and Sam, a woman who has just started at college and a man who works in a coffee shop. Their paths cross somewhat unexpectedly, and they find themselves drawn to one another but are, of course, too socially awkward to do anything about it. When Penny saves Sam from having a panic attack on the street, they become each other’s ’emergency contacts’, just, y’know, in case something happens.

You can see where this is going. Penny and Sam become texting buddies, talking about anything and everything all hours of the day and night. They become each other’s support through difficult stages in their lives – dealing with mom trouble, girl trouble, friend trouble and everything in between.

Loving someone was traumatizing. 

I adored the messed up characters of Penny and Sam. This book is told in alternating POV between the two of them, and both of them leap off the page. They are both real, with real problems, friendships and relationships that made me sympathise with them. But the reason I fell in love with Penny and Sam so deeply was because they reminded me of my own relationship. A few months before me and my boyfriend started dating, we started texting. And just as Penny and Sam did, we would message at all hours about anything and everything. We would have deep conversations in the middle of the night. And we fell in love.

As this book went on, it reminded me more and more of me and Mark. And my connection to this book deepened. I saw myself on the page – I saw our sweet interactions and first kisses. I realised how grateful and lucky I am to have found my emergency contact.

On a less subjective note, this book dips between being quite slow (it’s definitely a slow-burn romance!) and really addictive. I did find it slow at first but this is definitely more of a character focused than plot focused book and is bound to be a little on the slow side! I really liked how this didn’t shy away from some of the difficulties young adults face, especially as they moved away from home and the relationship with their parents changed. There are many real life issues discussed through the main characters and side characters – nothing is shied away from. It is dark and depressing in places, but it is reflective of real life and real struggles.

You never knew what would happen to them out there in the world. Everything precious was also vulnerable.

I can totally understand why this book is not for some people. It is slow in parts and the characters can be unlikable. It’s also super dark in places and sometimes that’s not what people look for in fiction. But personally, I absolutely adored it. I admit that is partly because of how I related to it on a personal level, but I think that’s okay sometimes!

CW: rape, pregnancy, drug use, drinking, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, racism

★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Rebel of the Sands (#1) by Alwyn Hamilton

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A sharpshooter. A dreamer. A damn good liar.
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it s an unforgiving place, especially if you re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al Hiza is all three. She s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she s destined to wind up wed or dead.Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she d gallop away on a mythical horse or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew. 

This book is one of those I picked up years ago, read a bit and decided to put down. At the time, I just couldn’t get into the story and knew I would get more out of it at another time. And luckily, I was right! I still understand why I didn’t get into this the first time, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I bought this whole series as it came out as they have absolutely stunning covers and I felt confident I would enjoy the story at a different time! Now I’ve read a lot more fantasy, I felt a lot less daunted by this series. I buddy read this with Alex which was so much fun! We’re reading the whole series together over the next few weeks which I’m really excited for.

I still felt like the start of this book definitely threw me in at the deep end and felt a little bit of an odd place to start. This book starts in an intense scene and I understand why I put it down the first time. However, after 50 pages ago, the first scene ends and it also felt like the book was starting again. It’s hard to explain, but the start of the next ‘day’ in the book felt like a fresh start to the story and look at Amani.

Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. 

I really enjoyed reading about Amani as a female main character, who was determined, strong and individual. The romance took a real backseat to the story which I enjoyed, and I felt like it didn’t take anything away from Amani as an individual. The world building was spot on and the world felt so tangible. I could picture it so clearly and it felt like such a rich description.

I also enjoyed reading about the diverse cast of characters, especially Amani and Jin. But later on in the story, I liked the group of friends who had a ‘found family’ feel to them! I really enjoyed the plot and this book just felt like it had more and more to give. I also found the writing really easy to read and felt it was a brilliant way of writing a high fantasy novel. It felt accessible which is exactly what I want from fantasy!

Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.

I’m so glad that I’ve finally started to read this series and it definitely gave me a pleasant surprise after I put it down all those years ago. I’m looking forward to reading more of the series and I can’t wait to see where this story goes!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Kingdom of the Wicked (#1) by Kerri Maniscalco

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Emilia and her twin sister Victoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Victoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to discover who did this, and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.
Then Emilia meets Wrath, the outlier among the seven demon brethren, always choosing duty over pleasure. He’s been tasked by his master with investigating a series of women’s murders on the island. When Emilia and Wrath’s fates collide, it’s clear this disturbing mystery will take a bewitching turn…

This book was so different to Stalking Jack the Ripper, Kerri Maniscalco’s other book series. Although of course, she couldn’t resist making this series also focused on a murder! The setting of this book is completely different, as it is set in Italy around a monastery and a restaurant, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I adore books about food and as the main character Emilia works in her family’s restaurant, there is no lack of food discussions. I just find that when written well, they really draw me into the story and make the book feel very real and tangible, which I loved.

After Emilia’s sister was brutally murdered, she discovered her sister had been tampering with dark magic. I really loved the magic system, which felt unique and creative with the different witches and demons across this story. The relationship Emilia had with Wrath and the other demons was so enticing and enthralling to read about. Kerri Maniscalco knows how to write a dark and mysterious love interest!

Love is the most powerful magic.

Personally, I loved the mystery element almost as much as those in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I didn’t guess the killer, but I wasn’t shocked to find out who the killer was, if that makes sense. I don’t tend to try to guess the killer in books like this, but it definitely did feel a little more obvious than in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

However, I really enjoyed the plot in general and oh my gosh, that ending was so good! It left on such a cliffhanger and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. My only complaint about this book was I just felt quite a disconnect from the characters. I think this may come from going straight from Stalking Jack the Ripper to Kingdom of the Wicked but I just felt I struggled to relate or connect to Emilia and Wrath after loving Thomas and Audrey Rose so much.

Above all else, remember that. It will always guide you where you need to go.

Overall, I enjoyed this but it was the kind of book you read and think other people will enjoy it a little more than you did. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, it just wasn’t perfect for me!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.
As the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

I’m not normally one to go for thrillers. But in the spirit of reading outside of my comfort zone, and after hearing so many amazing things about this author, I decided to pick it up. I bought this initially for my mum to read, who really enjoyed it and passed it on to me. I wasn’t drawn into this from the first page, but it did turn out to be a super quick and, you guessed it, thrilling read.

This book is written from the POV of many people – including the bride, the wedding planner and some of the guests who are integral to the storyline. But the clever way this is written makes it clear who is who and doesn’t leave the reader muddled at all. I admire her writing so much for this, and I thought the addition of ‘titles’ for the guests really helped (at the start of the chapter, it would say Jules – the bride, rather than just Jules, for example).

And I’m not worried about it being haunted.

The biggest issue I found with this book is I struggled to like/sympathise with almost all of the characters. There was only one, maybe two at a push, that I liked at all. The way this book is set up makes you realise that everyone is out for revenge – and has good reason to be. But unfortunately, setting the story up in that way ensures most of the characters are looked at in a really bad light. It’s really clever, but I just struggle to enjoy a book when I can’t like the main character(s). The Guest List is the kind of book that makes you see how capable anybody is of falling into the wrong crowd and doing things they will regret. It bares the darkest parts of human nature for all to see.

Although a little far fetched at times, this book was super fast paced (at least, definitely after around 150 pages), and I couldn’t put it down. It was full of action with creepy undertones, set on an island in the middle of nowhere as a storm is brewing. It felt dark and haunting and definitely left me a little creeped out at times! Although some of the plot twists were a little underwhelming (or I guessed were they were going), others left me thoroughly shocked and made me realise what the author was capable of pulling off.

I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go.

Overall, this was a great, entertaining thriller that I didn’t want to put down. It’s definitely one of those books that show the journey is just as important as the ending – and wow, that journey was a rollercoaster! Although not quite for me in places, I can see why this book (and author!) have had so much attention recently. It is certainly well deserved!

CW: drug use, drinking, bullying, self harm (graphic), suicidal thoughts, sexual assault, eating disorder, drowning, cheating, emotional abuse/manipulation

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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Review: You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sandchez and Jul Maroh

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Goodreads | Waterstones

Jake Hyde doesn’t swim—not since his father drowned. Luckily, he lives in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, which is in the middle of the desert, yet he yearns for the ocean and is determined to leave his hometown for a college on the coast. But his best friend, Maria, wants nothing more than to make a home in the desert, and Jake’s mother encourages him to always play it safe.
There’s nothing “safe” about Jake’s future—not when he’s attracted to Kenny Liu, swim team captain and rebel against conformity. And certainly not when he secretly applies to Miami University. Jake’s life begins to outpace his small town’s namesake, which doesn’t make it any easier to come out to his mom, or Maria, or the world.
But Jake is full of secrets, including the strange blue markings on his skin that glow when in contact with water. What power will he find when he searches for his identity, and will he turn his back to the current or dive headfirst into the waves? 

I’m here with my first ever DC graphic novel and I am so happy about it. My boyfriend Mark bought me this and Shadow of the Batgirl for me for Christmas and I was so excited to pick this up. Once I did, I couldn’t put this down and I sped through this in an evening. It is a stunning book with an absolutely beautiful muted, blue colour pallette that showcases Jake’s ability perfectly.

This book was so emotional, diverse and centers around a friendship. I really enjoyed that the friendship took such a big role in the story, as we don’t often see male/female protagonists as best friends. Jake is struggling with a lot of things in his life – being gay, wanting to apply to a different university to his best friend, and the strange blue markings on his skin. I really loved how this story begins completely normally, with Jake and his friend Maria on a hike in the desert where they live. We are introduced to Jake’s ability alongside him, in a cautious and uncertain manner, and I really enjoyed how it was weaved subtly throughout the story.

This is very much a coming-out story, and I really enjoyed reading about Jake and Kenny’s romance. The only slight disappointment for me was that this relationship felt a little insta-love, which I think is partly due to this being a graphic novel and therefore not giving quite as much space for the characters to get to know each other. However, I really liked the side-characters, and I loved how it included Jake’s relationships with his friend Maria’s parents. I related to some of the conversations he had with them so much, specifically because Maria’s dad said the same line as my friends dad said to me at an emotional time in my life, and therefore reading that scene made me cry!

Alex Sanchez on Crafting Aqualad's Coming Out Story in You Brought Me the  Ocean
Copyright DC Comics 2020

The diversity in this book is absolutely brilliant, with Jake being Black, Maria being Latin, Kenny being Asian and the teacher, Mrs Archer, being Native American. There was a section at the end of the graphic novel about the characters, and it included a paragraph about Mrs Archer and how important the authors felt it was to include a Native American character. On top of the diversity, You Brought Me the Ocean explores some very heavy themes, such as homophobia, bullying, physical assault, friendship issues and loss of parents.

Overall, this felt like a perfect graphic novel to introduce me to reading DC as the superhero factor takes a backseat and is definitely subtler than you may expect. This was a quick but emotional read and I really loved it!

★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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