The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary


cover150822-mediumThe Flatshare
by Beth O’Leary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey each have a problem and need a quick fix.

Tiffy’s been dumped by her cheating boyfriend and urgently needs a new flat. But earning minimum wage at a quirky publishing house means that her choices are limited in London.

Leon, a palliative care nurse, is more concerned with other people’s welfare than his own. Along with working night shifts looking after the terminally ill, his sole focus is on raising money to fight his brother’s unfair imprisonment.

Leon has a flat that he only uses 9 to 5. Tiffy works 9 to 5 and needs a place to sleep. The solution to their problems? To share a bed of course…

As Leon and Tiffy’s unusual arrangement becomes a reality, they start to connect through Post-It notes left for each other around the flat.

Can true love blossom even in the unlikeliest of situations?
Can true love blossom even if you never see one another?
Or does true love blossom when you are least expecting it?

 

When I read the blurb for The Flatshare I was immediately intrigued- two people sharing a flat, and a bed, who communicate entirely through post-it notes and have never met. It felt like it might be a bit reminiscent of “You’ve Got Mail” (which is my favourite film!) so I was really eager to read it.

The Flatshare ended up being one of the best reads of the year for me. It was so easy to pick up and be instantly immersed in the story. It’s a gorgeously uplifting romantic comedy from beginning to end. The main characters are immediately likable and they bring the story to life. There’s enough darkness and reality to the plot to make it believable, but enough cuteness, coincidence and wonderfully happy endings to make reading it a fantastic escape.

Tiffy and Leon’s romance built in a really realistic way, this wasn’t an instant love situation which all too often happens in romance books. I loved the notes they sent to each other, how they slowly became friends by leaving meals and baking out for each other, the reluctance on Leon’s part to meet Tiffy and Tiffy’s unstoppable personality proving irresistible to him.

The Flatshare is the best romantic comedy I’ve read in years. I can’t believe it’s a debut for Beth O’Leary. Her writing is warm and witty, with a fantastically well shaped plot. The Flatshare will leave you with a warm, cosy feeling in your heart long after you’ve finished reading.

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The Princess and the Fangirl, by Ashley Poston

pfThe Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

I was gifted an advance reading copy of this book from Quirk Books in return for an honest review.

I read Geekerella quite late in the year, last year, after having it sitting on my TBR shelf for quite a long time. It was one of those books that I knew I would love so I kept saving it for a time when I would really need a good book to get lost in. As predicted, I adored it, so much so that I found myself sitting in a cold bath in my darkened bathroom, hours after getting in and only coming to my senses when it became too dark to continue reading. The dreamy romance combined with the geekiness of the con and Starfield and the fairytale retelling trope (undoubtedly my favourite trope ever) was just completely perfect.

With this in mind, I’ve been desperate to read The Princess and the Fangirl since the moment I turned the last page of Geekerella and went online desperately searching for more books by Ashley Poston. Where the last book was a retelling of Cinderella, this book is a modern gender twist take on The Prince and the Pauper and it works SO well.

More of a companion novel than a true sequel, The Princess and the Fangirl follows a new protagonist as well as several reoccurring characters from Geekerella. Darien pops up enough for plenty of swooning opportunities, but at the same time the story is pretty much brand new and you could probably get away with reading it without having read Geekerella first without too much confusion (though you should definitely read it because it’s great.)

Everything I loved from the first book is present in this companion book. The Starfield fandom is so intricately developed that I absolutely forget it isn’t a real thing. I’m sold on it completely and really invested in what’s going to happen to the franchise. Romance is again central to the story, with a f/f relationship as well as a m/f one, which both develop so beautifully. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jess when reading Geekerella, but she definitely grew on me in this book and I enjoyed reading her chapters and getting to know her character and the reasons for her prickliness. I wanted to enjoy her blossoming relationship more than I could initially. I found myself really focused on the lies that I knew would catch up with her and it gave me minor anxiety thinking that they were going to crash and burn when they had such promise! Having said that, even with the lies there’s no denying that the chapter where she’s having a private dinner in a hotel room with her love interest was electric, so much chemistry.

Imogen was possibly my favourite character. I loved the simplicity of her love for Starfield and her, at times overzealous, passion. Another of my favourite tropes is hate turning to love, and Imogen and her love interest were the perfect depiction of this. I was rooting for them with every snide comment they flung at each other, hoping they would end up together.

I loved the Princess and the Fangirl so much. The romance, the con setting, all the geeky references and the continued story of the Starfield franchise. It was everything I wanted in a companion novel.

The Mummy Lessons by Helen Wallen

mummyThe Mummy Lessons: The laugh-out-loud novel for all exhausted parents and parents-to-be by Helen Wallen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a tough pregnancy, Emily is determined to tackle motherhood like a pro. But she quickly learns that Insta-Perfect-Parenting (and sleep) is hard to come by, no matter how much money you spend in Mothercare.

Irritatingly, her friend Molly seems to be breezing it. But with a business venture as well as a baby, is she taking on too much?

Liz looks as though she might have it all worked out. But when a tragedy derails her new relationship, she has some serious decisions to make.

Celebrating female friendship, the highs and lows of motherhood, and the lifesaving power of a jumperoo, THE MUMMY LESSONS follows a year of highs and lows for Emily, Molly and Liz as they learn the hardest lesson of all: life doesn’t always follow the rules . . .

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

I thoroughly enjoyed Helen Wallen’s first novel, “Baby Boom” so I was really keen to get stuck into book 2, “The Mummy Lesson’s” and find out what Emily, Molly and Liz were up to.

From the first page it felt like I was catching up with old friends and I sped through the pages getting lost in Emily and Molly’s mummy journeys. Everything I enjoyed from the first book was present in this sequel, the warm natural friendships between the women, the honesty about what it’s like to be a mother and the hilarity of the Whatsapp chats, but with an added dramatic storyline for Liz which kept me firmly on the edge of my seat terrified that Gerard and Liz might come to an end (Team Giz forever!)

I enjoyed the character development between books for Emily and Molly. Becoming a mother changes you in ways that are deeply personal and individual and it was so good to see each woman handle her new role in her own way. Equally, it was nice to see that when all three friends met up their friendships were exactly the same and none of them were left out.

As well as the realistic parenting parts of the book, the dramatic storyline added real tension to the plot. Liz is the character I relate to the least and I felt like we got a bit more of her in this book. She became a bit more vulnerable which was really interesting to read. I can’t help but feel like Liz’s story wasn’t completely resolved though, which has left me really hoping that book 3 is in the works!

I really recommend Helen Wallen’s books to anyone who enjoys a fun, hilarious contemporary page-turner. You don’t have to be a parent to enjoy these books, there’s plenty of plot and character for everyone to enjoy them. If you are a parent though you’ll laugh at the sheer accuracy of some of the descriptions in these books.

Internment, by Samira Ahmed

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Internment
by Samira Ahmed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today. 

Given the nature of the current political climate around the world, Internment is a frighteningly stark, no holds barred, powerful YA contemporary set “15 minutes” into the future within a US internment camp for Muslims.

Some books you read for pleasure, and others you read because you should read them and you need to read them. Internment is an uncomfortable read because it’s so believable. Previous examples of internment camps are referenced and discussed by the characters, particularly the Japanese Americans interned during WW2 and this constantly reminds the reader that this isn’t just fiction, this has all happened before and could easily happen again.

By focusing in on the main character Layla’s experience, Internment becomes a really personal story and really emphasises how crazy and arbitrary the idea of these camps are. Layla and her parents go from being normal American citizens to prisoners within a single night, with little explanation from those interning them.

The conditions described in the book are atrocious, made all the more horrifying for façade that the government have put up to make it seem as if the camp is not a prison- individual caravan type homes for each family, a mess room to eat dinners in and schooling/work schedules. Samira Ahmed explores human rights in a really interesting way, depicting how quickly people interned in this way become grateful for the smallest of privileges when just the week before they were normal citizens with complete freedom.

I really liked the dynamic between Layla and her parents. Layla is a very strong, determined woman and her parents are torn between encouraging this as they have previously, and wanting her to keep her head down inside the camp to keep them all as safe as possible.

At times I did find the actual plot of the book lost its way a little and could have been a bit tighter. I didn’t much care for Layla’s boyfriend David and found his sneaking into the camp the most far fetched aspect of the whole book (which is actually terrifying when you think about it…)

Overall, Internment is a gripping, terrifying reminder about what governments can do given the power if we don’t all fight against it. It’s depressing to know that in 2019 a book like this is still so relevant and important. Samira Ahmed’s writing is very accomplished and the story is written so realistically which makes it all the more effective. This book should be required reading in schools.

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The Go-Away Bird by Julia Donaldson and Catherine Rayner


51KtYHzaUfL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Go-Away Bird
by Julia Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gorgeous story about friendship and working together from a star picture-book partnership, the inimitable Julia Donaldson and award-winning Catherine Rayner.

‘The Go-Away bird sat up in her nest, With her fine grey wings and her fine grey crest.’ One by one, the other birds fly into her tree, wanting to talk or to play, but the Go-Away bird just shakes her head and sends them all away. But then the dangerous Get-You bird comes along, and she soon realizes that she might need some friends after all . . .

The Go-Away Bird combines brilliant rhyming verse from much-loved children’s author Julia Donaldson, creator of the bestselling picture books The Gruffalo and What the Ladybird Heard, with stunning illustrations from the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal-winning Catherine Rayner.

A charming story about the power of friendship from a thrilling creative partnership, this beautiful book is perfect for reading together.

 

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this with my 2 year old, who is a massive fan of all Julia Donaldson books. I find most of Julia’s books consist of a really strong story line with an important underlying message which allows a parent or teacher to open up a conversation about the topic.

The Go-Away Bird is a wonderful example of this, and a timely arrival for me personally as my daughter has reached the age where socialising, sharing, being kind and forming friendships are entering her small world and we are hearing the words “go away” more than we would like to as parents!

We settled down and read the story together. My daughter enjoyed pointing out the birds in the pictures and I found the rhyming text very easy to read out loud. We both enjoyed saying “go away, go away, go away” together and when the Get-you bird appeared, my daughter was immediately concerned and invested in the Go-Away bird finding help.

After we finished reading we went back through the book to look at the pictures again and I talked to my daughter about how it is important to have your own space, but how having friends is important too and it’s nice to be kind to people and help them. She seemed to connect with this idea quite well and definitely understood that telling the colourful birds to go away wasn’t very nice of the Go-Away bird.

I’m sure The Go-Away Bird will become a firm favourite on our shelf. It’s a wonderful story, with beautiful illustrations and it provided a great jumping off point to discuss friendship themes.

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Enchantée by Gita Trelease


cover152585-mediumEnchantée
by Gita Trelease

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…

 

I was very much looking forward to reading this book and although overall I enjoyed the story it wasn’t quite the book I had hoped for.

Trelease’s writing is very beautiful and detailed, and perfectly evoked the opulence of Versailles as well as the poverty of the home Camille starts out in. Camille’s family history set up the main plot of the book in an interesting effective way- I really felt like I could understand how desperate they were for money after the death of their parents and I was immediately on Camille’s side, urging her and her sister Sophie to escape from their violent, drug, gambling addicted brother Alain.

The romance between Camille and Lazare was also wonderful and I had butterflies reading about their fledgling relationship and the will they/won’t they flirting. The storyline about Lazare’s balloon was interesting, if a little drawn out in places and distracting from the main story at times. The scenes with the actual balloon flights added some much needed adventure to the book and I enjoyed stepping in Camille’s shoes and imagining how incredible it would feel to be flying at this point in history where it was almost unheard of.

Unfortunately, I found the scenes in Versailles failed to keep my attention for the most part. I found the magic system one of the most interesting parts of the story to begin with, but it felt to me as if it was almost never used. All Camille used it for was to change her appearance, go to the palace and win some card games. It seemed almost pointless to have included the magic within the book as she could equally have just been a naturally skilled gambler. I also felt that it was strange of Camille as a character to choose gambling when she was so against her brother Alain’s habit. I think it would have been more true to her as a character to have her find cleverer ways to use magic to gain power and money.

Overall, I enjoyed this story, particularly the relationship between Camille and Lazare. I think the pacing of the book is very slow at times and would have benefited from much less time at the card tables.

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Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen


41heqn7kcpl._sx343_bo1,204,203,200_Louis & Louise
by Julie Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?

Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.

In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.
In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.

Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?

 

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Julie Cohen’s writing is utterly wonderful. From the opening pages I was struck by her way with words and the way she approached this idea of following one person’s life and exploring the differences that might occur if they were born male or female.

It’s a fairly simple concept, and yet could have been misrepresented so easily. Julie Cohen manages to delve into this topic exquisitely and with sensitivity. Louis/Louise has the same best friends, the same love interests, and the same ambitions and the book really focuses on how society imposes it’s ideas of gender on a person, rather than a person’s soul being in some way changed just because of their gender.

Lou’s life story is for the most part a sad one, full of secrets and hurt which at points left me heartbroken and in tears. The emotion within the writing was so rich and believable it was impossible not to get swept up in it. I was so invested in Lou’s story that I found myself reaching to read more at any small given opportunity, even if I only had time for a page.

Louis & Louise is a masterpiece with an important message which will leave you pondering gender long after you finish reading about Lou’s life.

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