Review: Coffee Boy, Austin Chant

32813722.jpg

After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

CONTENT WARNING: scenes of a graphic sexual nature, mild transphobia

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the mood for something quick, fun, and fluffy, and I thought this romance would be perfect.

The bad:

At 90 pages, I only wish this book could have been longer. I loved Kieran and his self-assured sarcastic personality and could have read a full book about his internship and about him getting into politics.

The good:

Funny and warm, this book was a beautifully constructed mini romance. The characters were flawed and believable, and did a great job of illustrating older and younger members of the queer community and their reactions to labels, and also showed how even straight liberals can be accidentally homophobic or transphobic without the correct knowledge. The sex scenes were also well written without resorting to cliches or overly euphemistic language, which was refreshing. I’m excited to read some more of Chant’s other novellas, and hope he goes on to write more full length fiction in the future.

Overall rating: 4/5

Countless, Karen Gregory

34299826.jpg

When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time …

Heartbreaking and hopeful by turns, Karen Gregory’s debut novel is a story of love, heartache and human resilience. And how the things that matter most can’t be counted. Perfect for fans of Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Sarah Crossan.

CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders (anorexia, binging, and restriction)

 

Why I picked this book up:

I requested this book because I was curious to see how issues of mental health and pregnancy would be handled, and I was interested in a YA novel set in the UK, as almost everything I’ve read in the YA Contemporary genre has been very American-centric.

 

The bad:

Honestly, there was nothing negative to say about this book, other than the possibility that it my be triggering to ED sufferers due to some details about Hedda’s methods of restriction and obsession with other women’s weight. Other than that, the topic of the main character’s eating disorder was handled well – great details and insight were included regarding Hedda’s recovery and relapse without making this novel a handbook on how to lie about food and lose weight as some others on the topic can tend to be.

 

The good:

Wow. Just wow. At times this book winded me with descriptions of Hedda’s self-hatred, with her two halves battling towards health but also towards her anorexia, which she refers to as ‘Nia’. The way Nia is personified is so chilling, and was a great narrative device in order to convey often inexplicable emotions. There was a moment where I was worried that a love interest would become the ‘cure’ or the main plot, but Gregory allows any romance to become background to Hedda’s personal journey, with her feelings used as a way to demonstrate her self-destructive behaviour rather than something that felt shoe-horned in to make the book sell (which is a trope I feel that a lot of debut authors fall foul of). Hedda was also a great and flawed character, selfish due to her illness, but also deeply passionate, analytical and efficient, with a wicked sarcastic sense of humour. Overall this book was tragic, hopeful, and beautiful, exploring motherhood, mental health, learning to trust others with your problems, and the difficult to break spiral of self-loathing. Hedda is never ‘cured’, but her steps towards self-improvement are inspiring and heart-wrenching.

 

Overall rating: 4.5

 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: 1984, George Orwell

17118898.jpg

✮✮✮✮☆

The year 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. 1984 is still the great modern classic of “negative utopia” -a startlingly original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I’d read this book a good few years ago, but as it climbed higher up the bestsellers list over the last few weeks (three guesses as to why) I realised that I hardly remembered anything about the book itself, or even the majority of the characters. Luckily this classic is fairly short one that I could dip in and out of during a hectic week of job interviews and class presentations.

 

The bad:

As you can probably tell from the 4 star rating, I did thoroughly enjoy this book – that being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near perfect in its construction. The first hundred pages, until the character of Julia comes into play, is almost entirely exposition told through the quite boring day to day activities of Winston. I also felt that when Orwell included passages from the book, these 5 page excerpts were quickly condensed by Winston’s internal monologue immediately after, so felt very unnecessary and clunky in what was a very fast paced section of the book. If I’m really being picky, in places the political messages felt a little over-stated, with some passages, such as that on the creation of newspeak, extremely intelligent and deftly handled, whereas others, such as when Winston discovers a photograph of some inner circle members, were a little overdramatic and lacked the nuance so much of the book contained.

 

The good:

Despite my few small problems with the narrative, this reread really cemented how excellent and relevant this novel still is. Orwell’s exploration of intellectual freedom, language, and different forms of rebellion is like nothing else I’ve read, and so clearly defined a genre that is continuously replicated today. The dark and menacing ending acts as a warning and stark reminder of political powers that go unchecked, and how rebelling can be as large as standing up to corrupt leaders, or simply finding the beauty in life that those in power would have you forget.

 

Favourite quote:

“Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

 

Overall rating: 4/5

Review: The Ashes of London, Andrew Taylor

51KVpsNJK6L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

✮✮✮☆☆

 

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

CONTENT WARNING: Rape and sexual assault.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the midst of a reading slump when I decided to pick up this book on a whim in Waterstones last week. I tend to find that murder mysteries are great easy reads that I fly through, so I thought this book would be perfect to get myself excited about reading again. This period of British history is also something that I’ve read about and hugely enjoyed before, so I thought that the context I already had for the 17th century would help in getting myself through this a little quicker.

 

The bad: 

First and foremost, I really felt as though this book could have been severely trimmed down, by at least 50 pages. Some scenes gave a huge amount of unnecessary observations on behalf of the characters, and considering one of the two protagonists (James Marwood, possibly the wettest lettuce alive) didn’t ever seem to have anything interesting to say, it really dragged in places for me. I was also expecting something much more fast paced, whereas The Ashes of London ended up relying more on the historical fiction side of things than the murder mystery, which is the part I was most looking forward to. For the majority of the book, there was hardly any mystery at all, and only a small twist at the end seemed to give any excitement. I did enjoy the main female protagonist, Cat, who seemed to have much more personality than her male counterpart, but she still felt a little stilted. Her slightly feminist leanings and opinions seemed a little forced in, and the phrasing of them slightly too modern to be believable, but admittedly it did give her much more depth and motivation.

 

The good:

I think the aspect of the narrative that Taylor handled the best was his depiction of the aftermath of rape. The scene itself was not shown, but the raw emotion and gut reactions to the male touch afterwards were extremely heartfelt. Unlike other historical fiction and even fantasy I’ve read previously, this plot point did not seem throw-away in order to give some ‘edge’. Instead the act was pivotal to the main plot, and was handled delicately enough to be realistic and sympathetic without being too graphic or character defining for the victim. I also enjoyed the obviously excellently well-researched religious exploration that occurred throughout, and Taylor dealt with some complex issues surrounding how the beliefs and actions of parents can affect their children and legacy.

 

Overall rating: 3/5

 

Review: Bender, Gene Gant

 

30169790.jpg

At nineteen, college freshman Mace Danner works as an escort, hiring himself out to customers who want a submissive they can dominate. Having no carnal urges himself, the sexual side of his job leaves him cold, but he sees the pain inflicted on him by his clients as punishment for causing his brother’s death when he was in high school. Pain is not enough, however, to wash away his guilt, and Mace starts binge drinking in an effort to escape his remorse.
The dorm’s resident advisor, Dex Hammel, sees Mace spiraling out of control and strives to help him. Despite the mutual attraction between them, Mace is disturbed that he still feels no sexual desire for anyone. Even with Dex’s support, Mace’s self-destructive behavior escalates, leading to a situation that endangers his life.

 

Why I picked this book up:

When I was searching through the LGBT section on NetGalley, the synopsis really stood out to me – this was a fresh, if dark, take on most romances in YA, although I was skeptical as to whether this book would manage to do these themes of self destruction, asexuality, and healing justice.

 

The bad:

I think the only ‘bad’ thing I possibly have to say about this book is the violent sexual scenes, but that isn’t a fault of the book or the writing, just an uncomfortable thing to have to experience, especially as the narrative is so well written you empathise so completely with Mace. I definitely felt his isolation and his confusion, as well as his want to be around loving people but at the same time pushing them away. I can’t really find a negative thing to say about this novel, aside from how downtrodden and emotional it has the potential to make you feel.

 

The good:

I was thrilled to read about an asexual, bi-romantic character in YA, especially where the main character discovering his sexuality is only one strand of this plot. His journey and confusion regarding how he feels alongside his personal trauma and his shady life as a submissive escort made this a book that I flew through, rooting for Mace in every chapter, hoping he would find a way to help himself and let others help him. I think this is such an important book, as it not only highlights the difference between BDSM as something that turns you on and BDSM as something you can be forced into (without any judgement cast on the first), highlighting the struggles of asexuals and the problems with a lack of information about queer sexualities for young people, and shows a healthy, helpful healing process and ways to manage mental illness.

 

Favourite quote:

“I believe in friendship. I believe in love.”

 

Overall rating: 5/5

 

I was given a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Review: The Diviners, Libba Bray

Disclaimer: this review was originally posted on my old blog URL.

51tzbj2dmtl.jpg

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I had seen this everywhere on Tumblr, and as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to read it. Flappers? Check. Murder mystery? Check. Occult? Check. Sassy female characters with badass superpowers? Triple check.

 

The bad:

This book does take a while to get going, but considering its length at almost 600 pages, it’s understandable as to why. I’ve had this book for almost a year and never got further than fifty pages, but that’s mainly because I always ended up reaching for it whilst I was in a huge reading slump. Although I found it interesting, the plot hadn’t really started picking up in the small section that I’d read. It was only recently I decided to give it another go and carry on from where I’d left off.

 

The good:

But boy, when this book got going, it really got going. I was so heavily invested in every single one of the characters, despite the narrative flicking quickly between them all, as well as a few side characters as well. The setting of 1920’s New York with an occult murder mystery and a huge cast of contrasting teenage characters really made the book come alive for me. Every one of them had their own motivations, their own family or friends to take care of and their own attitude towards the powers they hold, which alongside a gripping detective narrative meant that I could hardly put it down once I made it past 200 pages. The setting, the tensions, and the huge climax made this such an easy and almost indulgent read.

 

Favourite quote:

“She was tired of being told how it was by this generation, who’d botched things so badly. They’d sold their children a pack of lies: God and country. Love your parents. All is fair. And then they’d sent those boys, her brother, off to fight a great monster of a war that maimed and killed and destroyed whatever was inside them. Still they lied, expecting her to mouth the words and play along. Well, she wouldn’t. She knew now that the world was a long way from fair. She knew the monsters were real.”

 

Overall rating: 5/5