‘Cemetery Boys’ – Aiden Thomas

This is a review I had to return to as when I finished the book I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t think straight. Emotional with some great comic moments, and characters that jump off the page with their vibrancy. A tale of love, acceptance and a healthy dose of sass with some magic thrown in…will be recommending this to so many!

Update

Yadriel is part of a family who can see the dead. Their talents have been nurtured over many years, and Yadriel is desperate to be part of the Brujx community. What we quickly learn is that Yadriel’s family are reluctant to accept him into the rituals because he is trans, and it goes against their traditions. A conflict that, for me, came to represent the challenge that seems to be common to many…that need to be accepted for who you are, and perhaps validated by those you love (even if they don’t seem wholly supportive of you).

Yadriel and his best friend, Maritza, definitely forge their own way. Determined to find a way to prove their skills, Yadriel carries out his own ritual when his cousin Miguel goes missing. There’s no sign of a body – but when Yadriel brings back another dead boy, Julian, he gets more than he bargained for!

From their first meeting Julian and Yadriel are great together. They have an instinctive need to support one another and they can’t always articulate what they’re feeling, but it’a a bond to treasure. It’s hardly surprising that Yadriel is not wholly pleased at the prospect of having to send Julian’s body to the afterlife.

The book follows Yadriel and Maritza in their journey to learn what has happened to Miguel and Julien. Eventually they get answers, though they’re not what they would have wanted. This culminated in a dramatic moment that had me crying, but the aftermath mopped things up nicely and left me with good feelings (albeit with tears in my eyes).

I can’t wait to recommend this to people and discuss it.

‘Heart Bones’ – Colleen Hoover

Hearts don’t have bones so they can’t hurt…proving people who think this wrong is, I think, the reason for writers like Hoover, who seem determined to show us the many ways in which loving someone can both heal and hurt in equal measure.

Our main character in this is Beyah Grim. When we first met her she’s living in a trailer park with her mother, a meth addict, and is faced with the pretty unpleasant scene of her mother having overdosed in their living space. Seeing how badly Beyah’s home life has impacted on her is made startlingly clear when she says that dying was probably the one good thing her mother did for her. Only hours after this shocking discovery, Beyah is told she is being evicted from the only home she’s known because her mother didn’t pay rent for the last few months. Her only choice is to phone the father she doesn’t really know.

So Beyah finds herself on a plane headed for Texas, where she is going to stay until she can take up her place in college. As soon as she meets her father at the airport it’s clear that her mother’s addiction has robbed her of the chance to have a relationship with her father, and though he has to take some blame for not pushing for a relationship it’s hard not to feel sorry for people like this who fall through the cracks.

Spending the summer surrounded by money and opportunities is a tough thing for Beyah to accept. She is the proverbial fish out of water, and resists her stepsister Sara’s attempts to fix her up with a friend. What we quickly come to realise is that Beyah has already made quite an impression on this friend…and so starts a summer fling that we predict will end in tears – but I definitely didn’t predict just how emotionally I’d react to it.

This is probably a book that’s good to go into without knowing too much. I feared it would be bleak and yet found myself laughing and enjoying this far more than I predicted. Of course it has moments that will upset you, but at its heart it’s a story about having the courage to stick with those you trust.

‘The Unexpected Everything’ – Morgan Matson

Our main character, Andie, is used to being organised. With a father involved in politics she’s used to watching what she says and does, and having things planned keeps her in control when she’s not really. Her close group of friends do pretty much everything together and she’s looking forward to her summer on her organised program.

Unfortunately, when we see Andie her father is having to step away from his job because of some issues with his team. As a result of this her letter of recommendation is withdrawn, she loses her summer program place and is set up for a summer where she is not in control of anything.

Of course, this is the summer that Andie gets to work a lot of stuff out. She gets a job walking dogs, and one of those on her round is Bertie…who happens to be linked to a young man called Clark that Andie finds very interesting.

No surprises, it’s a contemporary romance so we know we’re going to see Clark and Andie get together. What we’re not told initially is that Clark is actually a famous fantasy writer and his presence here is to allow him the summer to get over his writer’s block and sort out his final book of the trilogy. Andie finds herself trusting him, and learning to dial back on the organisation thing. She learns a lot about herself, her family and her friends.

There’s the inevitable bumps along the way – some of which we can see coming very early on – but everything works out okay in the end. At times it felt the story could have been cut a little, but for anyone who loves this kind of thing you won’t be disappointed.

 

‘Made You Up’ – Francesca Zappia

Our first encounter with Alex is her recollection of trying to free the lobsters from a supermarket tank. I admit to being unsure what to make of the start, but then she tells us that this event never happened and I was thrown. How could someone have a memory that wasn’t of a real event?

It’s at this point that we learn Alex has schizophrenia, and that her obsessive photo-taking is a way of trying to keep a grip on reality – looking at the pictures later helps her work out what she’s hallucinated and what was really there. When she first starts at her new school she is determined to do whatever she can to stay under the radar…only she finds herself drawn to loner Miles who scares everyone else. This might seem nothing, until we learn that she believes Miles to be the boy who helped her to free the lobsters (which she thinks didn’t happen).

The book seemed a sensitive attempt to show how something like schizophrenia can affect a person. Most of the time I felt real sympathy for how exhausting life must be for Alex, though there were some laugh-out-loud moments which really kept us on our toes.

While the main focus is Alex and how she finds herself living with her condition, there was also the focus on the mystery surrounding Miles and his family and the downright odd things happening in the school.
Quirky, but very interesting read.

 

‘No Offense’ – Meg Cabot

A rather obvious romance with some cute moments, though it all felt too clearly signposted.

Molly Montgomery is the new librarian in the charming town of Little Bridge. When she finds a baby abandoned in the new library we know there’s something strange going on. She is intrigued by the case, and just a little curious about the sheriff investigating it.

From the outset we can tell there will be romance between our sheriff and the librarian, and we’re just waiting to see what else goes on alongside it.
There’s some cute scenes, and you can’t help but like them, but it doesn’t really offer anything out of the ordinary. Perfect summer read, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

 

‘Breathless’ – Jennifer Niven

Thank you, Jennifer Niven, for writing the book that I needed as a teenager, and showing that, even though the results may not be exactly what you want, you have to be open to the possibilities life offers.

Breathless starts slowly, and while I was enjoying it I didn’t think it was going to cause the emotional gut-punch it did. It’s a book about love, learning to accept yourself and to have the confidence to take risks as they hurt but can bring wonderful things.

The main character in this, Claude, is a curious character, who definitely grew on me. She starts the book in a fairly safe place with certain expectations, then learns that things don’t always go to plan…but it can be okay. She is definitely feeling uncertain as she’s about to head to college, her best friend has started a relationship she didn’t know about and things are changing/she’s losing control of the things happening around her. Her summer begins in an unsettling way, with her parents announcing they are going to split up and she is expected to spend the summer on an island with her mother.

Cut off from everything she knows, this actually opens Claude to the possibility of new experiences. She takes solace in the immediacy of the wonderful natural environment around her, she learns to ride a bike and she starts a relationship with someone who changes her in ways she couldn’t imagine.

It would be so easy to reduce this to a summer romance category and make what we watch between Claude and Miah seem trite. That would, I think, be missing the point. It might not be exactly what we’d wish for either, but in its own way it’s beautiful.

I will be urging everyone to read this upon its September 2020 release, and would like to thank the publishers, Penguin, and NetGalley for letting me read it early.

 

‘Moment of Truth’ – Kasie West

I’m struggling to see how this formed a series as each of the books stands on their own. Yes, there’s some crossover characters, but the relevance to the story is really not important. That aside, this was another cute romance though it took a while to get going.

The story centres around sixteen year old Hadley, a dedicated swimmer, and her growing relationship with Jackson, who infuriated her but we can see it’s because he challenges her in a way others don’t and sees her for what she is. So, the relationship between these two is important and there plenty of ups and downs along the way but we can see just how compatible they are and watch to see how long until they realise it.

Hadley is focused, almost scarily so, and while I liked seeing her developing relationship with Jackson I felt that West was trying to do too many things by making her primary focus the relationship Hadley has with her parents. From the outset we can see that her relationship with mum and dad is skewed by the fact that they are still mourning her brother. She does so much but doesn’t seem to realise most of it is about trying to get the attention of her parents. If it’s so obvious to us and her friends then I wonder why it wasn’t the aspect of the book that West focused on more.

I completely get that behind the whole fake Heath Hall quest is the need for Hadley to recognise what’s holding her back. She knows it, but boy does it take her a long time to get round to working out how to face it!

 

‘Kiss My Cupcake’ – Helena Hunting

A romance to devour, and savour every moment of…

Blaire comes from a wealthy family of restaurant owners, but she has a dream of running her own business and making it successful on her own terms. Our first encounter with her is as she prepares to open her cupcake and cocktails shop. Things are looking good, but she’d not reckoned on Roman Knight who’s helping out his grandad by renovating the sports bar next door and installing some rather loud attractions.

First meeting between the two is explosive. They’re immediately wound up by each other, which we assume is the start of a great relationship eventually. Everyone around them can see where it’s going, but we have to go through the inevitable misunderstandings and problems first.

While it’s all quite transparent, the main characters are ones you can’t help but fall in love with. They’re far more alike than they want to let on, and the cast of surrounding characters also make for some amusing episodes.

From the off it was pretty obvious where we’d end up but every moment of this journey was great fun, and I’m so pleased that I was able to get my hands on this prior to publication.

‘Fame, Fate and the First Kiss’ – Kasie West

This time round we’re focusing on Lacey, who was a minor part of book one, and her role in a major movie. It’s a zombie horror movie, full of gore, and Lacey’s co-star is Hollywood heart-throb Grant who’s determined to reconnect with fans after some big budget movies haven’t gone as well as hoped.

Initially, Lacey came across as a little ruder and more insensitive than she did in book one. She was rude to her dad and doubted everything she was doing. Thankfully it was clear this was nerves about making a success of something important to her, so she never reached the stage of being too irritating.

Alongside the filming and mystery of who’s sabotaging her work, and why, we have a relationship with the cute boy who’s asked to tutor her.

It’s Kasie West so there’s few surprises. We get some tension, the characters have their ups and downs but it all gets resolved by the end and it’s a light-hearted read.

 

‘Faking Normal’ – Courtney C. Stevens

To a certain extent we all fake normal, but for those living with extreme situations it can become ingrained. From the moment we meet Lexi we know she’s struggling with something, something she can’t yet put a name to, but the signs are there and from the things she reveals it’s clear it’s serious. But nobody around her sees it…or, if they are picking up on the clues, they’re not pushing to learn the truth.

As Lexi manoeuvres her way through school she’s maintaining good grades and things seem, superficially, fine. But nobody knows that she can’t sleep at night, hides in her closet and self-harms as a way of trying to get through the pain of her experience.

This could have been a book like countless others, but alongside Lexi’s story we have Bodee. He starts as a rather nondescript character, given the nickname the Kool Aid kid, and all we know is he’s coming to live with Lexi after an incident involving his parents. Over time we learn more, and he quickly becomes the more interesting of the two – though because it’s Lexi’s story we never go quite as deep into the character as we could have.

What was at the heart of this book though was the developing friendship between these two, and the way they supported each other to begin to take the steps needed to begin their healing process.

Little clues were dropped initially about the identity of Lexi’s attacker. I had my suspicions, and once this was confirmed then it does make a lot more sense of some of the stuff we’ve seen. As in reality, we don’t see the full resolution but it was nice to know she was on her way.