‘My Mechanical Romance’ – Alexene Faros Follmuth

My Mechanical Romance is a cute romance, immersing us in the world of robotics…and having been an avid watcher of Robot Wars when I was younger I could understand the appeal (even if the creation of these things was not in my sphere of interest).

Bel is reluctant to think too deeply about the future. She is a capable student but hasn’t considered her future, isn’t sure what she wants to do at college and hasn’t even thought about how to make herself an interesting potential student. Teo, on the other hand, has his future planned with precision. He’s single-minded in his pursuit of academic excellence and is scarily focused on his extra-curricular activities being tailored to give him maximum advantage. Each has their reasons for behaving like this, both of which are revealed as we read, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for any young adult caught in this kind of academic pressure-cooker.

The focus on academia sounds heavy, but it is very much in the background. Our key interest is Bel’s involvement in the Robotic club and their preparations for National competition. It’s intense! There’s a couple of moments that had me rolling my eyes in frustration – the well-timed illness and the annoying sexist opponents- but these do offer something to the narrative.

I enjoyed the developing relationship between Teo and Bel, and it was certainly an interesting read to look at women in STEM and the institutionalised barriers that may impact on those wanting to get involved/feeling they can’t get involved.

For a YA romance this was a little more nuanced than I was expecting (and that was a good thing) and it has reminded me that I really need to get on with reading Atlas Six (penned by the author under another name)…

‘Something Wilder’ – Christina Lauren

Quite a departure for Christina Lauren, but great fun and it was hugely entertaining to follow this through from start to finish.

Lily Wilder has always, a little, resented her father Duke for his obsession with treasure hunts and riddles. A celebrated treasure hunter Duke was rumoured to have discovered money that was stolen by Butch Cassidy. There’s no suggestion that this is the case as Duke sold the family ranch, had a stroke and then left his daughter with nothing.

When we first meet Lily she is preparing for one of her wild tours, taking rich City types to the wild and allowing them to play at finding treasure. However, this particular tour goes very much off page…partly because one of the party is Leo, the man Lily fell in love with years ago, but also because one of the group has an ulterior motive for joining in.

While I was invested in the rekindling of Lily and Leo’s relationship I loved the way we veered into a true treasure hunt. We never quite know how this is going to pan out, but the temptation to risk everything just for a chance to fulfil a dream is quite an inspiration.

There’s danger, more than I expected, and there’s a nerdy delight in puzzles and codes. On more than one occasion it could have gone either way, but this had a lovely feel good factor to it that left me with a smile on my face.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this before publication in exchange for my review. I also wonder where they’ll go next…

 

‘Forging Silver into Stars’ – Brigid Kemmerer

I was unsure just how much of the world of Cursebreakers this would inhabit, and though many of the characters are the same there is enough here to offer something fresh.

Our main focus is baker Callyn and her best friend, Jax the blacksmith. They live in a fairly remote town, but have their own reasons to fear the magic that King Grey has at his disposal. Both struggling to survive, they are tempted by an offer to pass notes between people in exchange for silver. Naturally, they become curious as to the content of these notes, and as events proceed they learn all too well how their actions have consequences.

Alongside our pair, much of the action focuses on Tycho and Lord Alek, and their obvious dislike of one another. Both have their own reasons for visiting Briarfeld, and it’s a hard task to work out who to trust. Is their job protection? If so,who exactly are they protecting, and from what?

The pacing of the story means that things take a while to get going, but we learn some interesting details about Tycho and his powers. We get to see a little more of the inner circle and the issues they’re facing. Some familiar faces return…and there are more than enough hints about exciting things to come as the story continues.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before publication.

 

‘Felix Ever After’ – Kacen Callender

I admit to picking this up because I fell in love with the cover…sprayed edges made this a joy to look at. The content felt as if it might be an awkward read – I wondered if I could honestly sit through something where a character who is trying to be themselves gets such awful abuse. How would the author tackle some pretty hard-hitting issues?

I needn’t have worried. From start to finish, I was in safe hands.

Callender creates a very real character in Felix. Trans, black and gay…he worries he will never fit in anywhere and wants nothing more than to fall in love. He is a talented artist, but his feelings around his identity seem to be preventing him from really expressing himself. He gets angry, he messes up, on occasion he does some really hurtful things and yet there’s a searing honesty to him that I found touching.

The story focuses on Felix coming to terms with some questions about his identity, developing relationships and coming of age. There’s romance, though not quite in the way I expected it to go.

There’s no escaping the fact that the incident that is at the heart of much of the book – another student’s disgusting gallery show of old pictures and public deadnaming of Felix – was stomach-churning. The response from Felix and his friends was not, perhaps, the most sensible…but it was done with the right intentions. I loved the strength and support shown to Felix by those who he didn’t always recognise as allies.

While the love triangle was necessary to help Felix start to realise what/who mattered to him, I found myself most impacted by the scenes involving Declan’s grandfather and Felix’s dad. It was nice to see someone else’s view of things, and it was encouraging to see that people in such a situation will react differently.

There’s no guidebook to how to manage such a scenario, but this book will certainly offer support and encouragement. Highly recommended (and the cover is so beautiful that I’m tempted to put it on my bookshelf the wrong way round just so I can see the edges!)

 

 

‘Act Your Age, Eve Brown’ – Talia Hibbert

Pure unadulterated gooey loveliness.

Eve Brown is the youngest of the Brown sisters and something of a pampered princess. After yet another ‘failed career’ move, her parents give her an ultimatum – she has to keep a job for a year in order to have her trust fund restarted.

Now that is so far removed from the experiences of most readers it would be easy to feel no sympathy for Eve. However, from her evident social awkwardness and the sheer gusto with which she tackles everything to not fall a little in love with her would be unfeasible.

While her response to this makes little sense, her storming out and driving means she finds herself at a lovely B&B just at the moment they’re interviewing for a new chef. Of course, Eve is not suited to the job in so many ways…but the way she interacts with the boss Jacob tells us from the off exactly where this will end up.

From their first meeting I really loved the interactions between these two. Both autistic – though in Eve’s case this is undiagnosed – there’s something inherently satisfying about the idea that you can always find someone who gets you. And if they don’t get you as you are, then they’re not your person.

Some wonderful comedic moments, the expected sexual tension and a genuinely feel good message. Now we’ve had an insight into the three Brown sisters I feel sad there might be no more to come.

 

‘The Love Hypothesis’ – Ali Hazlewood

After something of a thriller glut, this romance was just what was needed.
The love story of Adam and Olive takes time to get going, but I loved their interactions and that sense of knowing where things were likely to end up even if they didn’t.

Set in the world of academia, which definitely seems more ruthless than you might expect, we first meet Olive when she’s trying to interview for a PHD program. Financial constraints lead to her wearing old contact lenses and a strange meeting in a bathroom…of course, we assume this meeting to be important though the story picks up years later.

As a post graduate student at Stamford Olivia is used to feeling uncertain of herself. Our whole story hinges on a bizarre incident where she asks to kiss a random man she finds in the corridor one night, in order to convince her best friend that it would be okay to go on a date with someone she once dated. Can think of so many other ways to deal with that issue, but where would the fun be in that?

Of course, the random man is none other than Dr Adam Carson…grade A asshole, the man everyone fears and who reduces everyone to tears. Bizarrely, Adam seems amused by Olivia’s request (naturally, he’s the man from the initial bathroom incident) and then they agree to a period of fake-dating to maintain this illusion.

From their initial awkward meetings it’s clear they have a cute way of interacting. Neither wants to admit their feelings for the other, and there’s more than one or two ‘close’ moments where we think we might get somewhere. For a romance this was surprisingly chaste in approach, but I found myself enjoying the way their relationship developed. There was a lack of detail about some things we take for granted, but with a feel-good vibe like this it was easy to overlook.

 

‘You’ve Reached Sam’ – Dustin Thao

You’ve Reached Sam is a book that will impact some people hugely, and even if you don’t find yourself a blubbery mess once it’s over then you will at least recognise how valuable this is to get people thinking about death and how we deal with it.

Julie is our main character and we learn that she has become something of a recluse since the death of her boyfriend, Sam. It frustrated me that for a character who plays such a pivotal role we know so little about him, but it was clear that he’d left his mark on the world somehow.

For reasons we never have explained, Julie finds herself able to talk to Sam on her mobile. There appear to be strict rules to follow, but these conversations allow Julie to say the things to Sam that she never had the opportunity to in life.
Only she can’t tell anyone what she’s doing or it will break their connection.

Slowly, and with the help of her friends, Julie learns to live again. By the end, things are settling back to a new reality but Julie is showing signs of accepting what has happened, learning to value the time she had with Sam and recognising the influence he has had on her life.

I personally found Julie quite irritating at times. Many of Sam’s friends and family were grieving but they rarely factored into her thought process. This is, probably, quite realistic – but it was nice to see there was no hard and fast approach to how someone should be seen to grieve. However, the steps she took allowed her to move gradually closer to accepting her new reality.

 

‘If This Gets Out’ – Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

If This Gets Out takes on what I’m fairly sure is an age-old issue (the manipulation of young singers by their management) and turns it on its head while delivering a sweet romance.

Our focus is a boyband called Saturday, formed after a summer camp and at a high point in their careers. Two years after they formed, the boys are starting to find the relentless grind and excessive management stifling. Relationships are strained and all four feel they are struggling to be true to themselves when their every public moment is monitored and choreographed.

Ruben, Zach, Jon and Angel were great friends and things began well. Somewhere along the way things have started to feel less fun, and as their success grows they are under increasing pressure to toe the line.

The book focuses on the relationship that develops between Ruben and Zach, but it also explores attitudes to sexuality, the mental health issues such a high-pressure existence creates, the way friends and family can sometimes be part of the problem and the role the media/fans play in such situations.

Perhaps this is a reflection of my age, but I found the romance element of the story the least engaging as I was more fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at this fictional boyband. I can only imagine this story may have been influenced by events surrounding some of the highly successful boybands over the last few years, but the issues it explores are probably age-old. The lack of resolution may have been an attempt to show the growing empowerment these boys felt they had, but it also left it a little too open-ended for my liking.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.

 

‘Only a Monster’ – Vanessa Len

Monsters are, traditionally, the things we hate but in this fascinating story we not only get to learn more about the monsters but we also are encouraged to side with them. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Our main character, Joan, is aware of feeling different. Her family background is a mix of cultures, and though she loves her father’s family she also enjoys the time she spends with her mother’s side of the family. When we first meet her she is spending the summer with her grandmother and spending time working at a local historical house. She was drawn to the place, and is excited to be going on a date with Nick, another volunteer.

On the day of her date, Joan learns something about herself that she could not have foreseen. The truth about her family is revealed, and it sets in place an awful chain of events with Nick at its heart.

Without giving too much away we learn that monsters walk the earth. We don’t know how they came into being, but they can travel through time…only they have to steal time from humans to do so. Joan is half-monster. Nick is the hero created to destroy monsters – so him falling in love with a monster is never going to be a good idea!

What we get is a tense and dramatic time-travel fantasy story, with lots of potential strands for development. I am desperate to learn more about the history of the monsters, and am pretty sure that we have not seen the last of the characters that make this such an exciting read.

Though not due for publication until early 2022, I’m grateful to the Secret Readers for allowing me the opportunity to read it in advance of publication. Exciting stuff!

 

‘Not Here to be Liked’ – Michelle Quach

A topical yet entertaining story, that delivers a sweet romance while exploring some pretty big ideas.

Our main character, Eliza, is a rather serious young woman. Her parents want her to succeed in school so she has a choice for her future career. Eliza is desperate to be editor-in-chief for her school paper and it seems she’s a guarantee for the role. But she hadn’t banked on new writer, Len, applying for the role…and when he gets it she is disappointed.

Eliza throws herself into venting her thoughts, blaming his success on the misogyny at play. When her vent is published it sparks a school-wide movement…but things get complicated when Eliza is forced to work with Len and finds herself developing feelings for her purported enemy.

The enemies to lovers thing isn’t new, but I liked that we get to see both views here and are not expected to see everything simply. The focus on parental expectations in certain family environments was interesting, and it was good to have characters that were a little more nuanced than we might have expected for a group of teens.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to access this before publication.