Book Review – Happily Ever After

by Harriet Evans
Started: 10 September 2016
Finished: 11 September 2016

It’s been a while since I last picked up a Harriet Evans book so I was really looking forward to reading Happily Ever After. However I was left quite disappointed with the novel which I wasn’t expecting.

The novel focuses on the life of Eleanor “Elle” Bee from when she was a child with her parents on the verge of divorce to when she is a successful career woman. We see her grow from a young socially awkward bookworm, to a confident and driven editor who has no time to read for pleasure. She spends her time editing other people’s happy endings, but will she ever have her own?

For most of the novel I really struggled to like Elle, there were times when I found her adorable, likeable and just the right amount of feisty. But then there were many other times where I found her quite frustrating, who would run away from her problems or just pretend they weren’t happening. Sometimes it would be understandable but other times you would just want to see her tackle them head on. Personally, I didn’t find many of the characters in the novel particularly likeable, he only two that stood out to me were Tom (and I even had a love-hate relationship with him) and Felicity (although you don’t get to see a whole lot of her). Although I didn’t like Elle’s family, I would have liked to have seen more of her family, as I found them and their interactions interesting.

I think part of the reason I struggled to like Elle was the way the novel was structured – each chapter took place in a different year, sometimes with fairly large gaps between the last. This made it so you didn’t see Elle develop as such, you saw her change. The Elle you would read about in one chapter sometimes felt completely different from the Elle in the next chapter. This wasn’t just true of Elle but other recurring characters too. Despite the gaps between chapters and changes in the characters, you would be aware of what prompted this change/development but it didn’t feel like it was happening organically as it would have done had you seen the situation fully unfold rather than jump to the next one.

As there were gaps anywhere between a couple of months to a couple of years between chapters, this meant that the chapters themselves would vary in size but would generally be quite long. Personally, I struggle to read longer chapters as it can begin to feel overwhelming and a bit of a chore at times. However this is just a personal preference for me and the plot itself was interesting and something different was always happening, albeit it was a little predictable at times.

Overall, the novel wasn’t bad and the plot was enough to keep me reading. It wasn’t my favourite Evans book however it hasn’t put me off buying more of her books in the future.

Rating: 2.5/5

 

Book Review – The Best Thing That Never Happened to Me

by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice
Started: 6 September 2016
Finished: 8 September 2016

I remember seeing this book everywhere when it was first released and I was dying to read it. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to read it but it definitely didn’t take me long to finish it because I was hooked from the beginning.

The book features best friends Holly and Alex who have drifted apart and not spoken in eleven years despite being inseparable in school. After Holly’s failed attempt to tell Alex how she really feels about him she leaves Yorkshire and eventually ends up in London as a PA and in a secret relationship with her boss. Alex on the other hand didn’t leave Yorkshire and became a literature teacher. After years of being apart will Holly and Alex get another chance once Alex decides to move to London?

I really liked Holly and Alex as characters (apart from the frustrating lack of communication!) and found them enjoyable protagonists. They were interesting characters by themselves and didn’t need other characters, such as their friends or even each other, to make them likeable or intriguing. I felt quite bad for Holly with her situation with Richard (her boss and lover) and although I wanted her to stand up for herself more in telling him what she wanted out of their relationship, you could understand and appreciate the complexity of why she holds back at times as he is her boss. I could also easily see why Holly was in love with Alex, I fell in love with him myself in a matter of pages! Like Holly, there were times where I wanted him to assert himself more but it didn’t seem to be in his nature. He was loyal, smart and funny who wanted to try and change the world one troubled pupil at a time. They complemented each other really well in their friendship and I was constantly rooting for them to actually talk and get together. You just really wanted them to be happy with each other because you really felt that they deserved it.

There are a few other recurring characters, most of who I found difficult to like, however I get the distinct impression Richard and Melissa weren’t written to be liked! And although I didn’t like them, I did like the drama their characters brought to Holly and Alex’s lives. As for the friends, I couldn’t understand why Alex was friends with Kev he was amusing at times but that didn’t feel like enough for me. However towards the end of the novel I began to like Kev more and found some redeeming qualities about him. Jemma on the other hand didn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities (aside her from her funny snide comments about Melissa) and for the most part seemed very self absorbed.

The plot itself was a joy to read, I liked how things weren’t easy for the two characters and how not everything was solved as soon as Alex moved to London. Both Holly and Alex were established well in the space of the opening chapters, so you grew to like them apart rather than depend on their interactions with each other. There was also a lot going on for each of them, which made their individual chapters fun to read rather than just enduring them until something happened. This was the case for both the present day chapters and the chapters set in the 1990s, I didn’t find myself bored and was eager to read everything. Despite loving the plot and development of characters, I would have loved to have had an epilogue to the novel. I was excited when I got to the end however I was quite disappointed with how abrupt the ending was.

I found the novel well written with each character having their own distinct personality. I liked how the novel had alternating chapters between Holly and Alex’s perspectives both in the past and present. These were clearly laid out so there wasn’t any confusion which there sometimes can be with a narrative like this. By having this constant change this kept the novel well paced and fun to read throughout.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and I’m pleased I’ve finally got round to reading it and seeing why people loved it so much! I would definitely recommend this novel and won’t wait this long to read the next book Tait and Rice release.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review – The Deviants

by C.J Skuse
Started: 15 September 2016
Finished: 15 September 2016

Firstly, huge thank you to HarperCollins and Harlequin for sending me a review copy of The Deviants. When I first started the book I wasn’t sure if it was going to be as good as I was expecting, however I ended up devouring the novel and loving every page of it.

The novel follows Ella, a member of the fearless five and Commonwealth 400m hopeful, as she recounts events of rage and revenge of one fateful summer. As the novel unravels you begin to learn of other secrets that haunt the fearless five. Why won’t Ella return to the island where they had fun as children and was Jessica’s death really just an accident?

For the first few chapters I didn’t find Ella likeable. However that quickly changed as the novel continued and you begin to understand her through opening up to her coach (albeit not giving away much, but just enough for you to feel for her) and her, rather extreme, actions to protect her friends. Ella is certainly someone you don’t want to get on the wrong side of as she is as creative as she is angry. I also loved Fallon and Corey, I thought they were really interesting characters to have in the fearless five group, you can see why Ella feels the need to help and protect them. I was conflicted with my feelings for Max, although you can argue his heart was in the right place most of the time, he was pretty clueless as to how to show that. I felt that all the characters were complex and were needed in the novel, even if they don’t necessarily feel like it at first.

I thought the plot was well developed despite the slightly slow start. Once you get used to how the story is being told, and are introduced to Ella, the plot is very gripping and well paced. There are many surprises in the novel, some are gradually revealed to you and others hit you suddenly. I thought this was great as you never quite know if you know everything you need to or if there are more twists to come. For a while I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to come together, or really the significance of everything but that’s one of the reasons that made me unable to put this book down. I was eager to see what was going to happen next.

This novel was incredibly well written, I was emotionally invested in this book on a completely different level. There were so many points in the novel where I could feel Ella’s rage myself and wanted to just jump in and give certain characters a piece of my mind. I was really rooting for her, well the whole fearless five, and wanted them all to have the ending they deserved. Towards the end of the novel my heart was racing as the climax became even more intense, only to be left in shock by the final chapters. I don’t want to give the ending away at all, however I will say I had to put the book down for several minutes before finally completing the book.

Overall, The Deviants is a fantastic novel, which left me shocked and speechless. It’s definitely one I would recommend everyone reads! Looking back it’s difficult to imagine I ever had doubts at the beginning of the novel, as it is easily one of my favourite books of this year.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review – Our Endless Numbered Days

by Claire Fuller
Started: 21 August 2016
Finished: 28 August 2016

Whenever I come across novels with unconventional childhoods and familial relationships I’m always excited to see where they will go. I loved where Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days took me and I didn’t want it to end.

The novel’s protagonist is Peggy in the present and the past, seamlessly illustrating how she is struggling to cope back at home with her mother, and the reasons why she is struggling to cope. We watch as her father takes her to a forest in Europe and introduces her to a new way of living, convincing her that it’s the only way to survive. However the mystery of what happened in the forest and how Peggy became the Peggy of the present is slowly uncovered.

I really loved Peggy, she was a wonderful character and very convincing. I liked how her mood towards the world around her and her father was constantly changing, from being excited and accepting the forest and to rebelling and hating the situation she found herself in. Although for a lot of the novel it was difficult to figure out her age, you could see her develop throughout the novel through her childhood into becoming a young woman. I enjoyed how Fuller explored Peggy’s character and her relationship with her father.

I found it very difficult to like either of her parents, however I can’t imagine we were supposed to like them that much anyway. That being said, I did feel sorry for them, especially towards the end of the novel. Both parents arguable had good intentions but they were misplaced and born of selfishness. However their desperation to make things right or had that moment of realisation you can’t help but slightly want it to work out for them, even though you know there’s a better way out. I think where there aren’t many characters in the novel you can’t help but form attachments and connections as otherwise it would be difficult to read, additionally reading from Peggy’s perspective somewhat softens your view of her father sometimes.

The novel was a little slow to start with, starting in the present and going back to how it all happened. Whilst the chapters in the present day were interesting and added good pace to the novel as it progressed, it would have been nice to have the fact she left the forest kept from the reader a little longer. However that isn’t to say you have all the answers straight away because that isn’t the case at all, and the novel was still gripping. I found once Peggy and her father were in the forest the pages flew by a lot faster and I was a lot more interested in the story itself, rather than just the characters. Their life in the forest and establishing a routine was very interesting to read which didn’t make the repetitiveness of some of the scenes feel like a chore to read.

Without giving away any spoilers the ending twist was heartbreaking and not one I really saw coming. It’s rare that I will literally gasp at a twist, but Fuller managed to tear it from my lips and give me goosebumps in the final chapter. However I would have liked to see some more of Peggy’s recovery and development outside of the forest, although even without that all the loose ends in terms of plot were tied up.

Overall, Our Endless Numbered Days was a beautiful novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Although it looks like it took me a while to read, it only took me two sittings (it’s just they were unfortunately interrupted!). This was a wonderful debut novel and I can’t wait to see more of Fuller’s work in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review – A Boy Made of Blocks

by Keith Stuart
Started: 1 September 2016
Finished: 2 September 2016

Before we get stuck in, a huge thank you to the Little, Brown Book Group for sending me a review copy of A Boy Made of Blocks.

The novel follows Alex, who’s going through a trial separation from his wife, Jody, and his relationship with his autistic son, Sam. Living with his best friend Dan, who seems to know everyone, and the memory of his brother which haunts him, Alex knows a change must be made to bring his family back together. But will that be possible if he doesn’t even understand his own son?

I wasn’t sure whether I would like Alex at first, however I quickly realised that although I may not like some of his actions (or, rather, lack of actions) at times or some of the things he says I understood where they were coming from. His pairing with Dan was great as where they’re quite different you got to explore Alex’s character further. As great as Alex was, Sam completely stole the show. I really loved the way Sam was written and you could tell Stuart was heavily influenced by his own son, Zac, as Sam felt so human. I found it very interesting to see Sam’s thought process through his choice of topics to speak about (or not as was also the case). Sam was a wonderful character who offered something new on every page.

In particular I found Sam’s obsession with Minecraft very interesting to see unfold. Personally, I loved the way Alex began to learn more about Sam through playing Minecraft with him. Not only did this help Alex learn about Sam but me as well and how some autistic children interact and engage with things they have an interest in. Additionally, how Alex and Jody would use Minecraft as a way to help calm him or help understand something else happening in his life was also interesting to see.

All of the characters in the novel were complex and great at highlighting characteristics within either Alex or Sam. I found each of them essential to the novel and they all added something new. For example, I liked how Matt and Clare’s marriage complemented Alex and Jody’s showing that everyone has problems regardless of their situation or your perception of their situation.

Throughout the novel there were many times I found myself strongly feeling the emotions of Alex, especially where Sam was concerned. The joy of seeing them connect or Sam excelling at something; the anger towards Sam’s school or anyone being mean to him and the heartbreak when Sam is inconsolably sad. To me, this is a sign of excellent writing and well developed characters. I found the plot very well paced as Alex was just trying to get through each day without anything major happening and occasionally have larger goals to accomplish. With this novel I was never quite sure how it was going to end, whenever I had an idea of what would happen with Alex (and Jody) something would then change that. This, along with the characters and pacing of the novel, made the story feel more convincing and realistic at times as life isn’t as straight-forward and predictable as novels.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this novel. I could have happily read another 400 pages of Alex and Sam’s relationship and adventures (a word I will now think of slightly differently thanks to Sam and Jody). This is an excellent debut novel from Stuart and one, I believe, that will have everyone eager to see what he does next.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review – The Rest of Us Just Live Here

by Patrick Ness
Started: 11 August 2016
Finished: 16 August 2016

One of my book highlights in 2015 was More Than This by Patrick Ness, so I have wanted to read another of his books for quite some time. I came across The Rest of Us Just Live Here and couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the normal people who are only ever in the background of popular young adult fiction? This novel follows Mikey and his friends, the normal kids who are content with never being the ‘chosen one’. All they want to do is graduate high school, however there’s something going on with the mysterious ‘indie kids’ which threatens that.

I really liked the unique personality of each character. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to Mikey but once I did I loved and really appreciated his narration. He was very witty and just seemed very down-to-earth. I liked his complexity and how Ness explored his OCD, and as frustrating as it could be I also liked his jealousy. My other favourites in the group were Jared and Mel, especially their interactions with Mikey and the rest of the group. They seemed to complement Mikey well and I enjoyed their character developments too. Out of the group the only character I wasn’t sure about was Henna, however I think this is because her behaviour and speech could be quite jarring against Mikey’s obsession and image of her. Despite this by the end of the novel we really got to know her and so I began o like her more, although I wasn’t left wishing I had seen more of her like I had with Jared and Mel.

Whilst not a lot of huge significant events happened in the plot – unlike what you would expect in ‘typical’ young adult fantasy – there was still a lot of substance to the novel. I was very happy to just read about Mikey’s struggles, whether that be in his friendships, family or his OCD. Although Mikey just getting through the final weeks of high school was the main story, there was also a more fantastical YA sub-plot going on. I would have liked to have seen more of Mikey’s family life as I found them all very interesting, especially after each time we saw them.

A nice feature of the novel were the summaries at the beginning of each chapter for the fantastical YA sub-plot. The summaries will be what the ‘indie kids’ (the ‘chosen ones’) are doing whilst the focus of the chapter is on Mikey and his friends. It was really interesting to see what would be happening if this was a ‘typical’ YA novel. It was also very clear that Ness is poking fun at that, with just a couple of throw away lines he hilariously sums up so many YA books I have read and love. I thought the novel was very interesting and cleverly done.

Overall, I loved the novel and the characters. The ending felt a little rushed, however the important loose ends were tied up and it was still left open-ended enough which gave the characters that extra life of what happens after the novel – which is what Ness did before with More Than This. This was another wonderful novel by Ness and he is quickly becoming a favourite author of mine.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review – The Night that Changed Everything

by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice
Started: 19 March 2016
Finished: 22 March 2016

I’d heard great things about The Best Thing that Never Happened to Me but I just haven’t got round to reading it yet. So when Penguin Random House asked if I’d be interested in a review copy of The Night that Changed Everything I jumped at the chance.

This novel follows Rebecca and Ben, the seemingly perfect couple whose different personalities complete each other. From the night they met until the night of Ben’s birthday party a year later when one throwaway comment changes their relationship. We spend the rest of the novel watching as they develop from this and waiting to see whether their serious relationship can survive.

Now, I’m going to be honest, for a lot of the novel I didn’t like Rebecca. I felt that she really overreacted to the comment and to what it referred to. However, I was pleased to see that the other characters in the novel didn’t excuse, or even understand it themselves. Towards the end of the novel my feelings changed towards her and her behaviour began to make more sense to me, so if you have the same reaction to her as me it really is worth sticking with her. I did really like Ben and reading his chapters in the novel, I also really felt for him and his situation (especially with Rebecca). My favourite character however was Jamie, he had great lines and moments in the novel. Every important moment seemed to involve him somehow too, he really was the glue of the group and the novel itself and as mentioned in the book, everyone should have a friend like Jamie. I also really liked Russ and Jemma, they had some great one-liners which brought some much needed comic relief at times.

At first I was a little disappointed that the novel jumps from when Rebecca and Ben first meet to a year later when they’re already in a serious relationship – as I generally like to see the development of the relationship. However after a few chapters it didn’t bother me at all and I thoroughly enjoyed reading to find out what was going to happen with their relationship, rather than what happened in their relationship up until that point. In addition, towards the end of the novel when an argument takes place it makes everything make sense in a way that perhaps wouldn’t have quite worked had we seen Rebecca and Ben’s relationship develop from the beginning. As much as I loved the ending (for reasons I can’t get into as they’re huge spoilers and despite another event I don’t want to ruin) there was one element that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, although it was hinted to a couple of times in the novel, I felt we didn’t see enough interactions with that particular character for it to make sense entirely.

The chapters in the novel alternate between Rebecca’s perspective and Ben’s perspective which I really enjoyed and it really worked in seeing the full situation. On a personal level I also enjoyed a break in Rebecca’s narrative from time to time. I also enjoyed how each chapter started with the date so it was easy to keep track with the timeline and so you see how much happens in the time frame (which Jemma herself points out towards the end, which I felt was a nice touch). I haven’t read a novel written by two authors before, however I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it flowed and whilst the two characters were very different, the writing styles weren’t so it was even easier to get sucked into the novel.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend it, especially as it isn’t your usual romance. I have already bought The Best Thing that Never Happened to Me and cannot wait to get started on it.

Rating: 4/5