I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. Here is the Black Lives Matter Carrd to support as well. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.
I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was last week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three fantastic books that are all either recent or upcoming releases and I will organise them in order of publication date, starting with The Missing Pieces of Me by Amelia Mandeville. Thanks so much to Frankie Banks and Little Brown Book Group for sending me an e-ARC of this heartfelt book in exchange for an honest review.
Willow and Dustin. They’re the perfect couple, everyone says so. And since the birth of their baby daughter, Dustin is sure his little family is all he will ever need.
So his world is shattered when he arrives home to find that Willow has disappeared, leaving only a cryptic note to say goodbye with no explanation of where she has gone or why she has left.
Determined to bring her home, Dustin sets out to find Willow. But the more he learns about the girl he loves most in the world, the more he feels like he’s trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces.
Was Willow really keeping secrets from him?
Or was he just not looking closely enough in the first place?
Publication Date: 26th June (ebook) & 20th August (paperback)
TW: grief, death, arson, emotional abuse, addiction, neglect, abusive parent, postpartum depression
I was really intrigued by this somewhat mysterious YA contemporary and Mandeville’s writing style kept that intrigue up throughout. It’s smartly structured, with shorter chapters that kept me hooked and two alternating timelines that were interwoven perfectly. We explore the past of Dustin and Willow’s relationship through the latter’s eyes and the present through the former. This serves to allow us to really get into the heads of our two primary protagonists, both of which had instantly engaging and relatable voices. Willow in particular is the more shadowy figure of the two, with secrets lying beneath the surface.
This is a real slice of life contemporary that particularly deals with family and parenthood in a really interesting way. Almost all of the family relationships in this book are fractured and flawed, which often felt like they were all skating on thin ice constantly. Reading this was like walking though an emotional minefield at times, as hidden prejudices and secrets bubbled up to the surface. Mandeville isn’t afraid to delve into darker topics and perhaps more taboo reactions to parenthood, like postpartum depression. She makes it abundantly clear that parenthood isn’t a perfect experience or particularly something that you just get instantly, rather it’s a tough leaning experience. I really liked how this wasn’t your typical romantic story, though Dustin and Willow’s romance was a core focus. The dual perspectives revealed how little we often know about those we love an dhow secrets are often our downfall. Mandeville really captures the whirlwind of emotions and the realistically messy, complex relationships we often share with others.
Next up, I’d like to discuss about the dark and thrilling Five Little Liars, which the lovely Laurie McShea at Simon & Schuster sent me an early finished copy in exchange for an honest review.
Nothing ruins summer vacation like a secret…especially when it involves a dead teacher.
Ivy used to be on top of the social ladder, until her ex made that all go away. She has a chance to be Queen Bee again, but only if the rest of the group can keep quiet.
Tyler has always been a bad boy, but lately he’s been running low on second chances. There’s no way he’s going to lose everything because someone couldn’t keep their mouth shut.
Kinley wouldn’t describe herself as perfect, though everyone else would. But perfection comes at a price, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do to keep her perfect record—one that doesn’t include murder charges.
Mattie is only in town for the summer. He wasn’t looking to make friends, and he definitely wasn’t looking to be involved in a murder. He’s also not looking to be riddled with guilt for the rest of his life…but to prevent that he’ll have to turn them all in.
Cade couldn’t care less about the body, or about the pact to keep the secret. The only way to be innocent is for someone else to be found guilty. Now he just has to decide who that someone will be.
With the police hot on the case, they don’t have much time to figure out how to trust each other. But in order to take the lead, you have to be first in line…and that’s the quickest way to get stabbed in the back.
Publication Date: 9th July
TW: death, cheating, racism, hate crime, mental illness, attempted murder
Five Little Liars had me hooked from the very first page, with a bold and gripping opening that instantly sets up the intrigue that’s to come.
I really liked how Morgan played with the Breakfast Club-esque set-up, as we explore more of our character’s twisted psyches through multiple narrators. They’re all hiding something and eventually all those secrets are going to bubble over. You know this from the very start and it makes your reading experience feel like a ticking time-bomb, leading towards an almost inevitable catastrophe. I also liked how none of the characters were overly likable, with their own deep flaws and insecurities.
Morgan pulls out some interesting twists and turns that keep you challenged throughout the story. The tension is omnipresent, but she still leaves room for character exploration and development. These two factors are always kept well balanced, as while the central mystery is explored, the individual mysteries of each character are gradually pulled back and revealed. Morgan really pushes her characters to their limits, with their guilt and secrets weighing on them until they each reach breaking point.
Without giving too much away, the core mystery was intriguing and the build-up to the teacher’s death was well-paced, just giving us enough time to expand these characters to three-dimensional, relatable people only to have all that crash away in their desperate actions to protect themselves.
However, I did have some issues with the depiction of mental illness in the story, as it just played up a stereotype. Similarly, the only non-straight character is bisexual and fills the harmful idea of bisexual people being more likely to cheat.
Five Little Liars is a fast-paced, gripping read that didn’t need to rely on the stereotypes it eventually used. That’s what frustrated me, as up until then Morgan had crafted an intriguing and interesting mystery.
Thirdly, I want to shout about the amazing Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter. I read and adored No Big Deal last year, so when I heard Rutter was releasing another book, I knew I had to pick it up! Luckily for me the awesome people at My Kinda Book sent me an eARC via Netgalley.
Lily Rose is used to people paying attention to her gorgeous twin sister, Daisy. But even though Lily loves her own fat body, she can’t shake the idea that no one would ever choose her over Daisy – not when they could have the thin twin.
That is, until she meets Cal, the gorgeous, sweet guy from New Zealand who can’t seem to stay away. The gorgeous, sweet guy who also happens to be Daisy’s summer crush. Lily can’t seem to figure out why she isn’t as into him as she should be. She should be head-over-heels in love, not missing time at the ice-cream shack with her life-long best friend, Cassie. Not wondering what Cassie is getting up to with Cal’s friend Jack, or what she’s thinking about when they’re alone . . .
With University threatening to tear Cassie and Lily apart at the end of summer, trying to keep Cal a secret from Daisy and a growing right-wing threat disturbing the usual quiet of their pleasant seaside town, Lily’s summer is set to be far from relaxing.
Publication Date: 23rd July
TW: homophobia, racism, xenophobia, fatphobia, sexual harassment, cheating, biphobia, white nationalism
Firstly, I have to say that Rutter crafts amazing, very believable teenage characters that I never struggle to engage with and just utterly fall in love with. Her books are just filled with gorgeous romance and thought-provoking discussion of incredibly relevant issues for myself and my peers. She has such a gift for bottling the sunshine-soaked feeling of summer love in this feel-good YA contemporary about love, family and finding yourself & your path.
The setting was just perfect for me, in that it’s set in the summer after A Levels, with that mix of endless possibilities, limitations and conflicting ideas. That stretch of time often feels infinite and Rutter explores the effect this has on Lily really well. She’s not entirely sure where she wants her future to go and a lot of the story revolves around her being able to find her own path. She’s also majorly impacted by the constant comparisons between her and her twin sister Daisy and the hurtful words Daisy sometimes uses towards her. Melt My Heart is very character-driven, showing how Lily moves beyond her sister’s shadow and into her authentic, true self.
Mixed with this is a beautiful exploration of identity and sexuality, which meant so much to me and will do for so many other readers out there. Rutter ensures that while her discovering her sexuality is hugely significant, it is just one part of her, rather than the sole focus of her character. This is also reflected with her being plus size, as the effect that fatphobic society has on her is discussed, but she is not just relegated to the role of being the ‘big girl’. These are just facets of her brilliant, talented and effervescent self.
Melt My Heart is a feel good, heart-warming story of finding your identity, family and love from an impactful author to watch.
Finally, I want to delve into They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, which is an extremely intriguing YA mystery that I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of via Netgalley.
In Gold Coast, Long Island, everything from the expensive downtown shops to the manicured beaches, to the pressed uniforms of Jill Newman and her friends, looks perfect. But as Jill found out three years ago, nothing is as it seems.
Freshman year Jill’s best friend, the brilliant, dazzling Shaila Arnold, was killed by her boyfriend. After that dark night on the beach, Graham confessed, the case was closed, and Jill tried to move on.
Now, it’s Jill’s senior year and she’s determined to make it her best yet. After all, she’s a senior and a Player–a member of Gold Coast Prep’s exclusive, not-so-secret secret society. Senior Players have the best parties, highest grades and the admiration of the entire school. This is going to be Jill’s year. She’s sure of it.
But when Jill starts getting texts proclaiming Graham’s innocence, her dreams of the perfect senior year start to crumble. If Graham didn’t kill Shaila, who did? Jill vows to find out, but digging deeper could mean putting her friendships, and her future, in jeopardy.
Publication Date: 4th August
TW: sexual harassment, attempted sexual assault, murder, death, grief
I was drawn to this book by that intriguing premise and the tantalising subject of high school cliques, dashed with a bit of mystery and murder. They Wish They Were Us excelled past my expectations, creating a gripping story that I flew through.
I really liked Goodman’s writing, as it was so descriptive and vivid, with bold, interesting word choices that completely transported me into the Player’s Table. You get hooked from the off with a compelling mystery and the toxic, cliquey atmosphere of this high school. The structure with the alternating timelines really served to unveil the darkness of the hazing the young Players went through at the hands of a power-mad, would be rapist and it’s genuinely chilling & uncomfortable to read at times.
Goodman isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in delving into the dark side of cliques, privilege and corruption. Most of the characters in the story have weaponised their privilege in order to get anything they want and the whole concept of the Players pushes this to its extreme, showing how often connections and money can give you an unfair advantage. The whole book is a scathing dissection of this abhorrent culture, tearing apart the myth of meritocracy.
In doing this, you often dislike these elitist, pampered rich kids, only to discover their hidden insecurities and flaws. These never excuse their actions, but serve to add layers that catapult them beyond your usual clichéd caricatures. There’s a lot of time wisely spent on character development and background, allowing us to really get a sense of the bonds between each character and the thinly veiled layer of secrets buried beneath.
They Wish They Were Us is a twisty, intense and illuminating examination of privilege and the lengths we’ll go to in order to protect ourselves and our secrets.