I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was the other week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read and loved.
First up, I’d like to talk about the exquisite Off the Record by Camryn Garrett. Thank you so much to Jasmin Kauldhar at Penguin Random House Children’s for sneding me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
When seventeen-year-old Josie Wright wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared. Soon she is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet.
Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, and then the secrets keep coming, she realizes she’s in over her head. She wants to do the right thing, but is this her story to tell? What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead . . . but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?
This is a moving testament to the #MeToo movement, and all the ways women stand up for each other.
Publication Date: 27th May
TW: mentions of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault and fatphobia
Off the Record proves once and for all that Camryn Garrett is a force to be reckoned with. This is a scintillating, hard-hitting read that just pulls you towards it with a magnetic force driven by Garrett’s authentic voice and characters that stay with you long after the final page.
Josie is the shining star of this book. In Garrett’s first book Full Disclosure, she proved that she could effortlessly capture the teenage voice and experience with incredible dialogue, characterisation and dynamics that felt so realistic. Yet again, she pulls it off with Josie. I fell in love with Josie from the first page, with her passion and determination to succeed in following her dream. However, she is complex, often feeling insecure and vulnerable. The intersections of her identity as being a fat, Black, bisexual woman are explored brilliantly and in a way that really opens up discussion and thought. More than that, Garrett infuses Josie with that kind of sparkle that promises greatness and a warm, funny and focused spirit. Josie takes on so many challenges throughout the book and it’s interesting to see how she tackles each one through her own narrative.
Beyond Josie, Garrett creates an intriguing web of relationships, familial, platonic and romantic. They’re all really well-developed and believable relationships, with great dialogue and chemistry pushing them along. I particularly loved the exploration of Josie’s relationship with her family and sisters, with her doubts and fears bubbling beneath the surface. You can’t help but root for Josie as it all unfolds. I liked Josie’s romantic relationship that develops, which felt very natural and heart-warming, but didn’t detract from the main focus of the book. It adds new layers to the discussion of sexual violence and abuse of power that forms the heart of the book. Stories like this are so recognisable from headlines and of course, the MeToo movement. Off the Record pushes this further, allowing for an intersectional and nuanced conversation that highlights other experiences and gives a voice to those made voiceless by this culture of silence and shame.
Off the Record is the type of book I just want to throw at everyone and make them read it. Once again, Garrett has created such an impactful and discussion-opening book that contains such authentic teenage voices whose characterisations shine off the page.
Next up, I’d like to talk about the amazing The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. Thank you so much to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and the micro-aggressions, she’s thrilled when Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events cause Nella to become Public Enemy Number One and Hazel, the Office Darling. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realises that there is a lot more at stake than her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Publication Date: 1st June
TW: racism, micro-aggressions, colourism, gaslighting, sexism
I cannot exaggerate how much I am in love with this book.
The Other Black Girl is a heart-pounding exploration of racism, colourism and micro-aggressions in the publishing industry and other white-dominated spheres. The book itself gaslights you through constant manipulation and doubting. You’re not even sure if it is a real conspiracy or if you’re seeing things that aren’t there. There’s some really illuminating passages on microaggressions and ‘subtle’ racism that were incredible to read. Overall, I adored the writing style and how beautiful the word choice felt often. This is a writer who is sure of themselves, who has confidence in their overarching vision and you and see that passion manifest itself in incredibly riveting and rich writing.
It would be remiss of me to not mention how wonderfully complex the narrative voices on display are. I love the interweaving characters and how their voices often contradict one another. There’s always a sense of unease in every page, setting you on edge and meaning that while you may empathise with certain characters, you never truly trust them. In that way, the characters feel slightly distant from you, but I really liked this.
Rarely does a book leave me genuinely gobsmacked. The Other Black Girl pulled this feat off, with twists and turns galore. For me, my favourite kinds of twists are those that immediately make you want to reread the story to see the tiny details you missed and here there were plenty of them. It was just so cleverly executed. Throughout, there’s a gradual buildup of tension and a claustrophobic atmosphere, but you are left unsure as to the full cause of it. The slow drip of suspense sent shivers down my spine and encapsulated everything a good mystery should have. When the curtain finally drops, it is a masterpiece.
The Other Black Girl was just such an excellent book that I can only implore you to pick up immediately.
Finally, I’d like to shout about the incredible This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron. Again, thank you so much to Bloomsbury YA for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Ever since she can remember, Briseis has had power over plants. Flowers bloom in her footsteps and leaves turn to face her as though she were the sun. It’s a power she and her adoptive mothers have spent her whole life trying to hide. And then Briseis inherits an old house from her birth mother and suddenly finds herself with the space and privacy to test her powers for the first time. But as Briseis starts to bring the house’s rambling garden back to life, she finds she has also inherited generations of secrets.
A hidden altar to a dark goddess, a lineage of witches stretching back to ancient times, and a hidden garden overgrown with the most deadly poisonous plants on earth. And Briseis’s long-departed ancestors aren’t going to let her rest until she accepts her place as the keeper of the terrible power that lies at the heart of the Poison Garden.
Cinderella Is Dead author Kalynn Bayron brings a message of proud inclusivity to this empowering fantasy about a young woman finding the strength to challenge everything she has been told is true.
Publication Date: 29th June
TW: grief, death, murder
This Poison Heart offers an imaginative and unique tale that will completely immerse you and transport you to a world full of magic, plants and witches.
I really liked Briseis’ powers and that aspect of the synopsis was what really drew me to this book. From the start, they’re really intriguing and well described. This is a magic system like no other, which my mind described as a blend of traditional magic and a pinch of Little Shop of Horrors. The way the world around her powers is gradually drawn out, along with its respective mythology and heritage was so fascinating to read about.
Yet again Bayron has produced a compulsively readable story. This is such an imaginative and unique story with beauty, heart and a touch of darkness at its core. Between this and Cinderella is Dead, Bayron is putting her own stamp on fairytales and reimaging them as the twisted tales of old. More than that, it is so good to see these antiquated stories retold through a fresh lens that is also diverse.
Without giving any details away, I really loved how Greek mythology was entwined into this story. It just added more layers and richness to an already elaborate story that completely captured my imagination. This sets the groundwork for what promises to be an explosive sequel. The twists and turns Bayron has lying in wait for the reader are just magnificent. I loved how every sleight of hand completely upended the story, increasing the pace, tension and suspense. Bayron has a particularly fiendish trick up her sleeve for the ending, which has left me craving more immediately.
This Poison Heart is another smash-hit from Bayron, showcasing her original spin on fairytales and similarly antiquated mythologies within popular culture. Her characters leap off the page and into your hearts, while her twists will leave you reeling.