Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich


Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen broadway soundtrack several times a week for the last year so when I heard it was being released as a YA novel I was desperate to get my hands on it. It was the only ARC at YALC I was desperate to go home with and sadly I didn’t manage to win the raffle. I was lucky enough however to be granted access via Netgalley AND my husband bought me a copy of the final published book (can you tell I went on about it a bit?!)

I find this story really sad. My heart hurts for Evan and the struggles he faces and the situations he gets himself into. Reading the book was more emotional than the musical because the novel format allows you to delve further into Evan’s brain and really expand on the emotions and issues he experiences. This also makes the book far heavier than the musical as there are no lighthearted catchy tunes to raise the mood. With no light relief the book is a really intense reading experience which is incredibly immersive.

The author’s writing is captivating and very believable. I imagine it was extremely hard to write this story without making it sound preachy- how can Evan learn his lesson without making it sound like a cheesy cautionary tale?
The authors managed to tell the story with compassion and through it all Evan remains a sympathetic, lovable character.

I recommend curling up with this book with the soundtrack on in the background. You can never have too much Dear Evan Hansen!

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I’ve wanted to read Shatter Me for a long time and when I saw it available on Netgalley ahead of the release of the fourth book in the series, “Restore Me” in March 2018, I knew I had to request it.

I’m glad I did finally read it, but I also wish I had read it back in 2011 when it was published, before the YA market was saturated with dystopian fiction. The three star rating I’ve given in this instance is wholly based on my personal enjoyment of reading this book at this point in time, perhaps unfairly. I know that if I had read this in 2011 I would have raved about it as much as I raved about Hunger Games. The truth is, I’ve become a little tired of the YA dystopian genre because of the same tropes that appear time and time again in every story.

Shatter Me opens with Juliette in a secure prison, thrown in there by the Restablishment for accidentally killing a person with her touch. Juliette cannot touch another human without fatal consequences and it isn’t long before the Restablishment decide they might be able to use her as a weapon against the enemies of their cause.

I loved Tahereh Mafi’s writing style. I found it almost effortless to zip through the story and I felt invested in the characters within the first couple of chapters. I liked the backstory between Juliette and Adam, but I enjoyed the weirdness of Warner a lot more. I thought his obsession with power and with Juliette was very well written. He seemed almost to be on the brink of insanity which lent an exciting unknown entity to the plot.

I found some aspects of the story difficult to read. I never enjoy reading about children in danger, or being hurt and those parts of this book almost caused me to stop reading. I found it really disturbing and it just didn’t seem to be a necessary part of the story.

I did enjoy the X-men feel to the end of the book, and because of this I think I will end up finishing the series. The next book in the series was set up nicely and I need to know what happens to Juliette, Adam and Warner.

Shatter Me doesn’t add anything new to its genre, but it is a very strong YA dystopian read.

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The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first introduction to the Grishaverse and perhaps my expectations were too high. I have seen a lot of hype online about Bardugo’s work and this book in particular because it is visually so stunning but unfortunately a lot of the stories either left me cold or confused.

A collection of stories inspired by myth, folklore and fairytale is usually so up my street, but in this instance I found some of the stories overly long for the plot they held, with too much flowery description and confusing conjecture. Perhaps this is because I haven’t yet read any of Bardugo’s other works but I just wasn’t captivated by the stories in the way I had hoped to be.

My favourite of the stories were “the too-clever fox” and “the witch of duva”. Both of these stories were concise and kept the pace they needed to make the climax of the stories impactful. I much preferred the stories which had some kind of surprising twist to their end, rather than the more fairy tale type stories which ended a bit weakly, or whose twists were obvious e.g. “Little Knife”.

Writing aside, the sheer beauty of this edition deserves a mention. Each story has a beautiful illustration bordering each page, and as the chapter continues more and more is added to the illustration until it completely surrounds the text on the page. Sara Kipin’s style is absolutley gorgeous and I spent a long time looking at the detail in all of the pictures, particularly the full page illustrations at the end of each story.

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Some kind of wonderful by Giovanna Fletcher

Some Kind of Wonderful by Giovanna Fletcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this book which is possibly why I feel so disappointed that I only found it…ok. Let me start by saying I love Giovanna Fletcher, as a mum, a vlogger, and a writer. Her previous books have enchanted me. I love her warm writing style; her romantic, dreamy plots and friendly characters.

Sadly, I felt that what I love about her books usually was missing from this novel. I didn’t like any of the characters (in fact I found them quite crude and vapid for the most part) and I didn’t feel like there was particularly a plot to the story beyond following a sad woman who had been dumped.

There were moments of loveliness, mostly between Connie and Lizzy but I also really enjoyed the scene with Ian towards the end and that redeemed this book for me a bit and nudged it over to three stars rather than the two it had been sitting at whilst I’d forced myself to keep reading through the NYE chapter and the whole job business with boring Natalia.

I think I was hoping that this book would be more empowering than it was. Having Lizzy pine for her 18 year old self for 400 pages seemed like a waste of a potentially good plot.

For any other author of this genre I would consider a three star rating to be not bad at all but I have come to expect comfort, positivity and gorgeous stories from Giovanna’s writing and for me this book did not live up to her previous works.

This review was first published on Goodreads on November 24th 2017.

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The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I’m not sure what I expected before I picked up this book but whatever I thought I was going to get, this wasn’t it. From the beginning of the book I felt like I was wrong-footed and that feeling didn’t really go away until I read the last page.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black follows a teenage girl with a dark secret as her parents one day whisk her away on a supposed holiday of a lifetime in an attempt to keep their own dark secret hidden. It’s actually very hard to discuss the plot of this book without spoilers as so much of the story revolved around the unknown, with secrets slowly being revealed to the reader as the plot progresses.

What I will say is I found something lacking with this book. On the surface the plot is gripping but the reading experience didn’t quite match up to the expectation I had for this book. I badly wanted the pace to pick up but I found myself almost becoming bored in between sections where secrets were being revealed and action was happening. None of the characters were likeable, which I feel could have been purposeful, but more than that they often didn’t seem like realistic people. Their speech and behaviour wasn’t fully fleshed out and I didn’t feel any kind of strong connection to them at all which always lessens my enjoyment of a book. If I’m not going to like a character, I at least want to dislike them. Feeling nothing about them leaves me disinterested.

My biggest issue with the book is Ella’s love interest plot. It seemed so unbelievable that she would meet her dream boy in the way she did and have him fall head over heels in love with her without so much as a word being uttered that I kept expecting him to be part of the bigger storyline. I was hoping he would turn out to not be as he seemed and have more sinister intentions. In the end, I felt his inclusion in the story just served to pad out the plot and lengthen the book unnecessarily.

Although my review may seem largely negative I have to say that I did read this book very quickly and found that I didn’t want to put it down. I did want to get to the climax and find out what was going to happen and overall I was satisfied with the ending. I do think it would have benefitted from developing the characters somewhat more, and focusing less on describing Ella running around Rio and hiding from everyone and more on her discovering the details of her parent’s secret as that was the part of the plot that was really gripping.

I think I would recommend this book to friends in the future, for the fact that the unfolding mystery is so original and it is a compelling depiction of mental health problems but my recommendation would come with caveats.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is published 11th January 2018.

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Leila has lived a sheltered life, centred around an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with her mother. After her mother dies, she is left alone, completely unequipped to be in charge of her life. She soon finds comfort in spending as much time online as possible, first in role playing games, and then in forums chatting to like minded people. It is through a forum she is hand-picked and groomed to be the perfect person to take on the virtual identity of Tess, who wants nothing more than to disappear without causing alarm to her family and friends. Naive Leila is only too happy to help, and soon finds herself in way over her head.

I found the premise of this book really interesting so I was very much looking forward to reading it. However, as interesting as the plot seemed, I was left largely dissatisfied on finishing the story. I spent a lot of the story waiting for it to really kick start, and it never really did.

I found Leila as a character very confusing. It’s never explained in the book why she is the way she is- whether he has some kind of autism, a learning disability or whether she is simply a product of her mother’s over protection. Without this information I found it tricky to know how I should be feeling about her, and her actions.

On the other hand, Tess was a character who was described in so much detail one would assume she would appear to the reader larger than life. Unfortunately, I just found her unrealistic, and unbelievable. I know quite a bit about mental health, and depression, and the portrayal of Tess just didn’t support the plot of the story for me.

I had no problem finishing the story, it moved along at a good pace and I was interested to know what happened, however I think if I’d have read this book in separate sittings rather than all in one go I might have struggled to maintain my interest. I was also waiting for there to be a twist at the end, but the story played itself out as the reader would expect. There were no great surprises, for me at least, and the ambiguity of parts of the story which never got finally addressed along with the superfluous nature of some of the characters we are introduced to left me a tad disappointed.

Kiss Me First is a fine story, but if you’re looking for a thrilling psychological suspense novel this will probably not be your best choice.

This review was first published on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads on 4th March 2014.

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The Folded Man by Matt Hill

The Folded Man by Matt Hill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s 2018 and England is in a bad way. Manchester, to be specific, has run to ruin with riots having burned much of it to the ground and society ravaged almost to the point of being unrecognisable. The novel concentrates on the central character of Brian Meredith- drug addled, with a dysmorphic feature that leaves him wheelchair bound and depressed. He also thinks he’s a mermaid, and this is where The Folded Man gets confusing.

I loved Matt Hill’s writing. He has an easy confidence to his prose that makes it compelling to read and the character’s he has developed are wonderfully eccentric and English which lends a real sense of black humour to the novel, despite it being pretty close to home in turns of where our economy society appears to be leading us to currently.

However, for all that I loved the writing, at many points in the book I didn’t have a clue as to what was actually happening. At points I almost gave up and resigned myself to the fact I just wasn’t intelligent enough to keep up with the plot. I read on though, and I began to suspect that this sense of overwhelming puzzlement was down to the book being written from Brian’s point of view as it becomes abundantly clear that he doesn’t know what on earth is going on for much of the book!

Given the general sense of anarchy, panic and uncertainty of the book I didn’t mind not particularly knowing what was going on at all times. However, the absence of speech marks became a really big nuisance for me. On many pages I had to go over paragraphs I had just read to make sure that I knew who had said what. I see no reason for speech marks to ever be left out of books- they were invented for a reason and make the readers job a whole lot easier. The character’s, though artistically developed, did not have distinct enough voices for the reader to be able to instinctively know who was talking. Often, I’d be reading the page and wouldn’t realise that speech had begun until I was a couple of sentences into a conversation. This becomes tiresome after a while and did detract from my enjoyment when it was coupled with a general sense of having no idea what was going on.

I’m undecided as to whether I liked the ending or not. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling, but it’s safe to say the novel took a turning that I did not expect. I can say that as a whole, my experience of reading The Folded Man was enjoyable. Putting this book down I felt like I’d just been on the biggest drug trip ever- which is probably exactly what Matt Hill wanted considering Brian’s constant and vast ingestion of substances. If you’re a fan of Orwell, Palahniuk, Bradbury or Huxley you should definitely give this book a go.

This review was first published on Nudge-books.com and Goodreads on 6th May 2013.

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