Book Review: Heartstream – Tom Pollock

“I just wanted to see you. Before the end. A taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal, for fans of Black Mirror. Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie.

Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.”

Oof, this book! This book. If that blurb doesn’t grab you I don’t know what will. I could not put this book down, I stayed up way too late because I needed to know what was going to happen, I needed to know answers!

Initially I did find it hard to connect with Amy, I found her a little bratty and couldn’t gel with her – this did change throughout the novel as I got to know the character. Cat, on the other hand, I instantly connected to and wanted to know more about her and her life – overall I did prefer Cat as a character.

It took me a long while to understand what the connection between Amy and Cat and it drove me a little crazy, then when it dawned on me I definitely gasped out loud and continued racing through. This also broke me out of a slump I was having and made me interested in thrillers again.

While I did work out a few elements before they happened that was towards the end and I still had some shock moments. Pollock can clearly write a thriller that feels new and I can’t remember the last time I read one of those.

I found it really interesting how the plot centers around technology and emotion. We don’t know where technology and streaming is going to go and while this is a terrifying possibility it’s also fascinating because I think people would subscribe to this and use it in the real world. That said the positives and negatives are both there, which adds a great sense of balance.

I gave this 4 stars, a really strong book and that ending…THAT ENDING. I definitely need to know more and while I doubt there will be a follow up, I would read it within a second – I need to know what happens after! A strong thriller that I would definitely recommend for someone looking for something a little different with a technology twist.

Book Review: That’s Not What Happened – Kody Keplinger

It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School shooting. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall. Everyone knows Sarah’s story. 

But it’s not true.”

Faced with the 3rd anniversary of the shooting, Lee is starting to feel suffocated by the pressure of truth. With the lies of the circumstances of Sarah’s death getting bigger and bigger Lee knows it’s time to tell the truth, even if it could ruin absolutely everything. As a way of dealing with the tragedy before leaving for college, Lee encourages all of the survivors to write their own letters and the consequences aren’t what she expects…

I’ve never read a novel by Kody Keplinger before but I was intrigued by this one. It has an interesting concept and I really enjoyed that it was a mix of traditional prose and letters. The fact that Kepplinger made each letter really fit with an individual character showed a real talent.

Of course, this isn’t an easy book to read. It does go into quite a lot of detail in regards to a school shooting, dealing with PTSD after the event and the effects that something like this would have on the entire town. I’d definitely keep that in mind before picking up the novel as it’s not going to be a cheerful one.

I was also surprised a few times within the book, while I thought I knew what was going to happen there were revelations. Each of the characters were fleshed out to have their own lives, their own hopes and fears and while we see these through Lee’s eyes it made the novel stand out to me.

There are parallels, I’ve been told, with the story of a young woman who was killed in the Columbine shooting in 1999. Some people have seen this as a reason to slate the novel, however, I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. She has simply taken a similar story and built her own around it. Bare in mind that this is targeted at young adults, I myself was 4 years old when Columbine happened – I knew nothing about it. So it may not be as obvious to younger readers.

I gave this novel 4.5 stars, I was really impressed by the amount of depth that each of the characters had and their own accounts of the story. I definitely want to read more of Keplinger’s books and would recommend this as a thoughtful read.

Book Review: Prince Charming (Royals) – Rachel Hawkins

It isn’t every day that your older sister is set to marry a member of the royal family, but that’s the position that Daisy and her family find themselves in – and she wants no part of it. She’s happy with her florida life, her mermaid red hair and staying out of the paparazzi’s way. But, when a whiff of scandal comes for Daisy she’s shipped off the Scotland…and it’s just the beginning of a royal rollercoaster.

I picked this up at YALC last year, but didn’t get around to it until earlier this year and I’m kicking myself for waiting that long! This is a light story but one that is a lot of fun and has a healthy dose of romance. When I bought my copy the novel was called Royals, this has been update this year to Prince Charming, with a new cover to die for.

First things first, our protagonist, Daisy, is an absolute delight. She’s hilarious but also glaringly normal – which is why you relate to her so much. There’s no rule book on what to do if you become in laws to the royal family or how to get on with the aristocracy when it’s a whole different world – I know I would struggle!

When Daisy meets the younger royals and their friends, Prince Seb, Monty and the rest of the ‘Royal Wreckers’ is when the fun really begins. As Monty is instructed to teach Daisy the royal ropes, he finds his work cut out for him. Daisy doesn’t fit the role of the traditional lady, but it’s because of that she can teach them a thing or two.

I really enjoyed seeing the relationship between Daisy and her older sister Ellie evolve throughout the book. It’s clear at the start they are very different people with different priorities but they need each other – even if they don’t always see it. I wish we saw more of the sister relationship in YA, this is part of the reason the novel really stood out for me.

I gave this 5 stars, this was an absolute joy to read. It had the perfect amount of romance, comedy and royalty for me to enjoy. I’ve recommended this to a lot of people and I will continue to. Keep an eye out for my review of the next book in the series (!!) following the roommate of Princess Flora.

Book Review: Internment – Samira Ahmed

In a world reminiscent of Nazi Germany, families are rounded up in the night and put on trains with few belongings and no idea where they are going. This is a world 17 year old Layla finds herself in. Ending up in an Internment Camp for American Muslims, Layla isn’t willing to take this lying down.

With the help of a small group of friends, Layla begins to fight back in any way that she can. But how far can she push before the Director snaps and just how far will he go in his attempts to control the camp.

After reading Samira Ahmed’s first novel, Love Hate & Other Filters I knew I had to preorder her new book and it did not disappoint. This is a hard hitting novel. While the writing is superb it is the reflection of today’s society that really got me while reading this book.

Ahmed has tackled Islamophobia in her previous novel, but this takes it to another level. She has managed to make the possibility of these internment camps seem alarmingly real. What makes this possible is not just her talent, but also the parallels she has drawn from what we are seeing today in modern day America.

I also found the relationships that Layla had to be incredibly important to the novel and gave it a more realistic vibe. The fear of her parents, the hope of the young people and the disbelief they have all felt made the novel come alive. I was also pleased to see her own opinions change from the black and white views she holds at the beginning of the novel slowly evolve.

I would say that my only criticism would be that I felt the book could have been longer, things ended quite quickly and I, personally, would have liked more details. I can’t say what on as obviously that would be a spoiler and I really do recommend you read this for yourselves.

I gave this 4.5 stars, it was incredibly well written and , actually, came across as chilling but in a way that needed to be told. Ahmed has a real talent for looking in the face of things society would rather not talk about in regards to growing up as a Muslim in the modern world.

Book Review: This Is Where It Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

This is Where it Ends - Marieke Nijkamp

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

The novel centres around a school shooting, each perspective is that of someone who has been in contact with the shooter in some way or another – and they all have something to lose. A novel full of suspense, who will get out alive?

I’ve been waiting to read this novel since it was released and I finally picked it up at YALC in the summer. I’m fascinated by how an author gets into writing such a tough novel because, ultimately, there is a lot of risk of not getting it right. I believe that Nijkamp was very sensitive and has fleshed out the characters really well.

I was really pleased to see the LGBT representation in the novel, two of the characters are lesbians and dealing with their breakup as the shooting emerges. There is also a character with a disability, as well as multiple characters who are ethnic minorities – but this doesn’t feel forced at all.

I thought it was really interesting how the novel used social media within the situation. These are teenagers and what we have seen, particularly in response to Parkland, is how young people use social media. Of course, there would be tweets, people would be trying to reach people. This was a good addition on Nijkamp’s part.

The ending was terribly, terribly sad and just leaves the novel on a poignant note. The shooting is, unfortunately, just the start of many people’s nightmares. Some will have to face life without their family members, others will have to live with injuries similar to those in war zones.

I gave this novel 4 stars, this was incredibly well written and tackled an incredibly hard topic. In the current climate, more novels like this should be available to bring awareness to what can happen. If you liked Only Child, one of my top reads of the year, you will also find this to be an excellent novel.

Book Review Girl Made of Stars

Book Review: Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars

When your friend accuses your twin brother of rape where do you turn? Your friend wouldn’t lie, but could the brother you love do this? Add in the complication of an ex-girlfriend and it’s enough to tear anyone apart. This is Mara’s reality.

This novel will break your heart, I need to warn you going into this. I read this while stuck in the hospital and I truly escaped into the novel and felt my heart break but was also blown away. This has so many levels, Mara’s relationship with her brother, with her parents and with her friends.

Ashley Herring Blake really captures the grey area of consent. In many cases of sexual assault, particularly when the accused and accuser know each other things get muddy. That said she has perfectly captured the complexity of the situation and at no point blames the victim.

In the era of #MeToo more stories like this are being heard and even though this novel is fictional it reinforces the message: you deserve to be heard. While this is from Mara’s perspective, this does not take away from the emotions of someone to have gone through such an event. It is superbly written

On another note, I love, love, love that there was a bisexual main character. There are very few I’ve seen that show interest in both sexes within the novel, that was a huge thing for me. This isn’t a huge plot point or a twist it just is what it is and I applaud that.

If you haven’t guessed already, I gave this novel 5 stars. It really is a brilliantly written novel which has heart as well as complexity. This is the kind of novel that should be taught in school, that will give young people something to relate to.

I’d love to hear your thoughts you’ve read this novel. Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here – Jay Coles

Tyler Johnson Was Here

A party, a raid, a body. Marvin Johnson wants to be closer to his twin brother, who’s been drifting recently. After going to a party with him, Marvin’s life will change forever. Shots are fired and in the middle of a police raid Marvin loses sight of Tyler, what he doesn’t know is that he’ll never see him alive again. After searching Marvin gets the news that Tyler is dead, murdered by a police officer. How can he make sense of the world now?

This book is a masterpiece. I absolutely loved this and it deserves to be read everywhere. I had to go to Foyles in London (which I’m not complaining about it’s one of the best shops in the world) to get this and I haven’t seen it in any local stores! But why did I love it so much?

At the beginning of the novel, we meet Marvin, a high school straight A student with a bright future ahead of him. Kind, quiet and caring Marvin is worried about his twin brother, which leads to the previously mentioned party, and Tyler’s death. The novel quickly delves into the world of racial hatred and shooting of young, unarmed black men that we see again and again in the US.

This is a novel, ultimately about family and identity. The fact that Tyler is murdered at the hands of a police officer isn’t the shocking part to the family. These boys are brought up to be wary of police and that was heartbreaking. Their father is already in prison, their mother working as hard as she can to raise them. Is it any wonder that without his brother by his side Marvin feels lost and confused.

A central part of this novel is how Marvin see’s himself. Should he be continuing to try his hardest, to be respectful and separate himself from the stereotype of where he’s from when that’s all people see? Or should he just embrace it? There are parts within the novel where you just want to reach out to him, especially when he mentions his brother has ‘become a hashtag’.

I gave this novel 5 stars. It’s an important read for modern times. Incredibly, this is Jay Coles’s debut novel I can’t wait to see what he does next.