I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was a little while ago. 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.
First up, I’d like to talk about All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue. Thank you to Walker for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.
Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will Maeve’s new gift be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?
Publication Date: 27th May
TW: homophobia, hate crimes, suicide, racism, religious hatred, cult, self harm, abuse
All Our Hidden Gifts is a curious gem of a book, steeped in magic, tarot and mystery. It is one of those books that sneaks up on you and bewitches you in its pages.
I really, really how deeply Irish this book was. From its interweaving of real life movements and historical moments to its very heart and soul, it just sits proudly in its heritage and cements its own place in that cultural fabric. Alongside this, I loved the exploration of tarot and magic. It all unfolds in such an interesting and more than slightly unnerving way, but it still has this sense of awe and joy centered around the magic. These two factors combine to create this tantalising atmosphere that I just fell in love with.
I have a lot of love for books that just have a touch of the unknown to them. All Our Hidden Gifts is one of those sparkling stories that sublimely combines touches of the fantastical with reality. This just adds so much depth and richness to the story that readily invites repeated readings. For me, that added space allows for O’Donoghue to make her social commentary hit that much harder. This book largely focuses on the struggle of love against hatred and how monsters can be hidden behind charming facades. Often, hatred comes behind a veneer of politeness and concern about morality. This is unequivocally rejected and shown as the horror it is in this book. The cult-like environment created is disturbing and unnerving to read, reminding the reader of too many real-life examples.
This book just wrapped me up in its pages and cast a spell on me that I couldn’t quite break. The mystery is interesting the whole way through and I genuinely was surprised with the amazing twists and turns. I appreciated how it was gradually built in a way that kept you hooked, with this slow burning sense of dread simmering away and some moments that felt like classic horror film scares.
All Our Hidden Gifts carefully walks the line between our world and that just beyond us, combining supernatural elements with an atmospheric and gorgeously authentic story about love, hatred and fractured friendship.
Next up, I’d like to talk about the fantastic Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson. Thank you so much to Harriet Dunlea at Scholastic for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Two girls. One life-changing music festival.
Toni is grieving the loss of her roadie father and needing to figure out where her life will go from here – and she’s desperate to get back to loving music. Olivia is a hopeless romantic whose heart has just taken a beating (again) and is beginning to feel like she’ll always be a square peg in a round hole – but the Farmland Music and Arts Festival is a chance to find a place where she fits.
The two collide and it feels like something like kismet when a bond begins to form. But when something goes wrong and the festival is sent into a panic, Olivia and Toni will find that they need each other (and music) more than they ever imagined.
A joyous, Black girl rom-com about finding love and being true to yourself.
Publication Date: 1st July
TW: parental loss, panic attacks, gun violence, non consensual image sharing
Rise to the Sun was a heart-warming read that perfectly captures the essence of summer and how those balmy nights feel full of possibilities and romance.
As shown with You Should See Me in a Crown, Johnson has a way of infusing a story with so much warmth and heart that you can’t help but fall in love with it. There’s just some special quality to her writing that has me utterly hooked. Rise to the Sun exemplifies this once more, providing another smash-hit story. This is an unapologetically proud Black and queer romcom, offering up some much needed diversity. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented and that’s particularly true when it comes to romance and just being happy. A lot of diverse narratives are focused around suffering and education for their readers, which is of course important and necessary, but readers of colour and those within the LGBTQ+ community deserve to see characters like them just exist and be happy.
I really loved this contemporary tale, particularly how Johnson shows the messiness and complications of love. There is no straightforward path here, with plenty of interesting dynamics along the way. However, the chemistry between the two leads is dynamite to witness. I personally adore the sunshine and grumpy trope and Johnson uses it so well here. Their dialogue was just crackling with chemistry, while also being so witty and you could really see the underlying tension between the two of them. Both of their voices felt so authentic and I love how Johnson always makes her teenage characters act and sound like real teenagers.
Another huge theme of this book is music and how it can connect you to moments in your life. We all have certain moments in our life that we will forever associate with certain songs and I feel like Johnson used the setting of the festival to wonderfully explore the topics of grief and family. Music is the interweaving thread of our lives and that’s encapsulated in the festival experience in the book.
Rise to the Sun seems to distill rays of sunshine into pages glowing with love and heart. This is the perfect romance to enjoy the languid days of summer with, though I’d also recommend a killer playlist as you’ll want to reignite your own love of music.
Finally, I’d like to delve into This Is My Truth by Yasmin Rahman. Thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Best friends Amani and Huda are getting nervous about their GCSEs – and their future beyond school, which they’re both wildly unprepared for.
Shy, quiet Amani has an outwardly picture-perfect family – a father who is a successful TV presenter, a loving mother, and an adorable younger brother – while confident and impulsive Huda has grown up with over-affectionate foster parents who are now expecting a baby of their own.
Both girls are jealous of each other’s seemingly easy life, without realising the darkness or worries that lie underneath. Then Huda witnesses Amani’s father hitting her mother, and Amani’s biggest secret is suddenly out.
As Amani convinces Huda to keep quiet by helping her with her own problems, a prank blog starts up at school, revealing students’ secrets one by one. Will this anonymous blogger get hold of Amani’s secret too? Will Huda keep quiet?
Publication Date: 22nd July
TW: domestic violence, racism, abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, mentions of alcoholism and familial death
This Is My Truth is a book that sits with you long after the final page. Rahman delves into some tough topics, but in a way that is sensitive and nuanced.
You can clearly see the effects of extensive research and sensitivity readers, which Rahman credits in her acknowledgements. This level of dedication and commitment to getting her representation right is what sets Rahman apart. It’s evident in every word she places on the page, you can really feel the heart and soul being poured into this book. I really loved how Rahman used the anonymous blog to explore the familial issues and how the secrets grew from just embarrassing anecdotes to darker issues. This makes the topics discussed have all the more impact. The way Amani has such a complex relationship with her father and every day feels different in certain ways is explored so well. You can feel the entrenched manipulation in their daily routines and how they have to walk on eggshells.
A shining light in this book is Amani and Huda’s friendship. I loved the two of them and how funny their dialogue was. You just felt comfortable around them and it was great to see such a solid friendship. At the same time, they felt so authentic in the way that they were both far from perfect. They’re dealing with their own insecurities and issues, which leads inevitably to confrontation. I really liked how Rahman pushed as far away from a rose-tinted lens as she feasibly could. Both of these girls are just trying to survive their own situations, but still have room for laughter and joy.
This Is My Truth is a fantastic book that kickstarts such a necessary conversation. It is an emotional whirlwind, leaving you crying from both laughter and sorrow.