‘The Unhoneymooners’ – Christina Lauren

This really was a story to take me by surprise. While the end result was obvious, it was such good fun to watch things unfold you’d have to have a heart of stone to not be sucked in.

Olive has always been used to feeling less than her composed sister, Ami. But when Ami and her entire wedding party get sick on the day of the wedding it ends up with Olive and best man, Ethan, taking up the honeymoon.

They hate each other, so it’s obvious they’ll end up together, but this was done naturally and in a way that had me both laughing out loud and swooning.

Great fun, though all quite obvious. A perfect summer read.

‘The Rest of the Story’ – Sarah Dessen

A coming-of-age story that explores family bonds, grief, friendship and romance…and even has time for a major event…

Emma Saylor is (dare I say it) rather bland as a character. Since her mother’s death she’s always been protected by her father and, at seventeen, leads quite a sheltered life. When plans for her to stay with a friend fall through, she is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure her father and stepmother go on their honeymoon. So she agrees to stay with her grandmother, the one she hasn’t seen since she was four, at the lakeside resort her mother lived in.

A rather slow beginning as Emma gets to know who’s who in the family she never knew. We have quite stereotypical reactions from Emma as she learns some of the truths about her mother that others have tried to hide. However, through these stories she also learns about herself.

There’s no major revelations, just a gradual self-awakening. But it was portrayed quite realistically and did leave me with a bit of a smile on my face.

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ – Casey McQuiston

Will we ever see such a reality? A female President whose bisexual son starts a relationship with the Prince of England…probably not, but that’s why we have books.

Alex is convinced that he hates the Prince of England – but for someone who is so disliked, Alex spends a lot of time reading about him. Of course, his feelings are pretty obvious to everyone but Alex for the start of the book. Interestingly, it’s not him who makes the first move and this was a little more graphic than I was thinking it would be.

Some of the scenarios we were given were – I imagine – highly improbable. However, this was a romance with a difference.Great fun. Cheering. Highly entertaining.

‘The Boy Next Story’ – Tiffany Schmidt

In this second book in the series there’s a sense of familiarity to some of the components, but the changing book focus and new characters stops it seeming repetitive.

In this story we focus on aspiring artist Aurora who’s had a crush on her next door neighbour Toby since she was five. Unfortunately, he seems to be in love with Aurora’s sister even though she’s unaware of it.

This could have been irritating beyond belief, and there were moments that I wanted to smack heads together because people were being so dense, but the warmth of Aurora and her friends Clara and Huck kept it entertaining. When the focus was on The Great Gatsby I was uncertain if this was the book for me – but after a false start a new book becomes the focus and this is much more pertinent.

This was no easy ride love story, but everything turned out nicely and kept me entertained along the way. A great bookish journey, and I must thank NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘Pretty in Punxsutawney’ – Laurie Boyle Crompton

Thank you NetGalley for giving me a good old-fashioned belly-laugh.
Before I give my thoughts on this, I have to confess to disliking Groundhog Day with a passion. I’m also fairly ambivalent about John Hughes’ movies…though I know them well enough to get the references here.

When Andie’s parents move her to Punxsutawney she spends the summer hanging out at the local movie theatre. Convinced she will find a boyfriend in one of the staff there (whose name has escaped me as he’s not particularly memorable, other than for being totally the wrong person for her) she is understandably nervous about her first day at a new school.

Her first day is a humdinger of awfulness. What’s worse is that she wakes the next day…and she’s back on her first day. This cycle is destined to repeat over and over.

Andie slowly starts to use her rather unusual situation to find out more about the students around her. She acquires new skills and plays some blinders worthy of their own place in an 80s teen movie.

Eventually, the cycle breaks and unless you’re VERY hard-hearted, you’ll applaud Andie all the way.

‘Normal People’ – Sally Rooney

When Connell and Marianne first meet they are in school, and their lives are worlds apart. There is, however, an attraction between them and though nothing is ever shared with classmates they start a relationship (of sorts).

Each is messed up in their own way. They’re lost and wanting something. Neither really knows what, but we watch them go through time in this on/off relationship.

At varying times each finds someone else. Through university the pair maintain this relationship, but as we learn more about their backgrounds some of their quirks become a little more understandable.

Perhaps this will resonate with some, but I found the self-consciousness of the writing a little off-putting and it was, at heart, quite a miserable read. I can see how the soul-searching might appeal to some, but life is too short to waste on such a miserable situation.

‘A Very Large Expanse of Sea’ – Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11, and Shirin has just started at yet another new high school. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments – even the physical violence she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day.

Shirin drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother. But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know her. It terrifies her -they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds – and Shirin has had her guard up against the world for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

A book that makes you laugh, cry, rail against prejudice and many other emotions besides.

Shirin is used to moving around. She does her best not to be noticed, but as a Muslim teenager who wears the hijab she’s used to being seen and judged. Given that this novel is set not long after the 09/11 attacks, it’s inevitable that we’ll be forced to confront some pretty unpleasant behaviour and attitudes.

While the novel focuses on Shirin’s religion and how people treat her because of their assumptions about her, it is predominantly a love story.

Accustomed to being ignored or asked insulting questions, Shirin is bemused when her lab partner Ocean takes an interest in her. The pair of them together were awkward at times, but I was rooting for them from the off. Even more so when Shirin realises the one boy she gets a crush on is the high school basketball golden boy, and their relationship will bring all sorts of issues.

I think it’s safe to say this is a book I would highly recommend, and would be surprised if someone didn’t end up captivated by it. I’m particularly keen to see how those who enjoyed ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas find it.

‘What If It’s Us?’ – Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I wanted to wait for my physical copy, but NetGalley gave me an ARC and I couldn’t resist…so now I’ll get to read it again, soon.

This did not go where I wanted to, it didn’t do a lot of the things I hoped it would but I still fell for it hook, line and sinker.

When Arthur and Ben meet one day in New York, the chances of them seeing each other again are pretty slim. But where would the fun be in that?

Through a varied range of ingenious actions they find each other and have a date. It doesn’t work brilliantly, so they try again…and again. There’s lots of other factors impacting on their attempt to have a relationship, but they keep trying. Even when things are clearly heading into car-crash territory these two come out of things smelling of roses.

Every character in the story sparkles on the page, and this was a gooey lovely thing. For the most part. Not always – because nobody’s life could be that amazing – but it came fairly close.

Even the ending – which totally goes against what part of me really wanted to happen – was perfect.

‘Second Chance Summer’ – Morgan Matson

Having lost a relative to this illness only a few months ago, there was always going to be an emotional investment in this for me.
Taylor is having to spend the summer with her family after they learn her father has pancreatic cancer. Setting aside the inevitable turmoil she feels at coping with such an event, Taylor also has unfinished business at the resort and this bothers her.
To cut a long story short, the novel is set in summer and nearly every interaction between Taylor and other characters links to the idea of second chances in some way.
The story allows us to take pleasure in the small moments, those moments it’s too easy to take for granted until you no longer have them. Matson explores the physical impact of illness with sensitivity and there were some genuinely moving moments (even if you’ve not been in a similar situation).
Alongside this we have Taylor learning to deal with her emotions and friendships. The romance is not overdone, and the growth Taylor experiences as a character felt realistic in its portrayal.
All in all, one of those books that got me far more emotionally invested than I was expecting.

‘Wicked Deep’ – Shea Earnshaw

A slow-build which thoughtfully explores love and relationships in a magical setting.

Over two hundred years ago the Swan sisters were accused of witchcraft and killed. In the modern day the town of Sparrow has little going for it, until the start of Swan season when the locals brace themselves for the annual attempt by these spirits to get revenge against the town that killed them.

Each year the spirits of the three wronged sisters take a life. Each year the tourists flock to Sparrow to witness these macabre events. Each year the locals brace themselves for the unease they feel necessary to atone for their ancestor’s past choices.

This year is different. Penny Thompson is determined that things need to change. When mysterious Bo arrives in Sparrow she has a difficult decision to make…save him, or save herself.

This was a magical read, and the interweaving of past and present kept me hooked in the events and keen to see how they would resolve themselves.