Mini Review Monday #68

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 previously read and am now ready to share my full thoughts about.

First up, I’d like to talk about Vile Stars by Sera Milano. Thank you so much to Farshore for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

How can the things you love hurt so much?

17-year-old Luka isn’t looking for love. She’s trying to piece her life back together after a heartbreaking loss. But when she meets the gorgeous and charismatic Cosmo under a meteor shower at the Greenwich Observatory, it feels like destiny has played a hand. Surely theirs is a love written in the stars.

But Cosmo isn’t what he seems, using Luka’s love for him to slowly take control of her life. As the pandemic starts to make headlines and lockdown sets in, she is trapped emotionally and physically in a coercive relationship. Luka’s friends and brother can see what’s happening, but struggle to reach her. Something will have to be sacrificed so Luka can set herself free – but what will be left of her when she does?


This is a different kind of love story.

Publication Date: 14th April

TW: COVID, pandemic, loss of a parent, death, gaslighting, suicidal ideation, loss, grief, transphobia, homophobia, abuse, cancer, emotional abuse, physical abuse, violence, coercive control

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

This Can Never Not Be Real stunned me last year with its emotional intensity and Milano’s ability to completely draw me into this gripping, immersive story. Vile Stars proves this was no mistake, with another intense and emotional gut punch of a book. 

This was one of those books that you know you will bury deep in your heart. Milano’s portrayal of grief was stunningly emotional and full of authenticity. It is a complex and long-lasting process, with Milano showing every messy step. Like This Can Never Not Be Real, I really loved the narrative format of the story. The way we mix letters, interviews and podcast transcripts gives it that multi-media, layered feel that is that much more true to life. It is scattered and gives multiple perspectives on the unfolding events. The way Milano weaves together the past and the present is so clever as well, showing the benefit of hindsight in identifying a lot of these initial red flags and the way the control slowly builds.

Milano’s skills strongly lie with her ability to create such three-dimensional, flawed and fractured characters. They are so fleshed out and developed, allowing me to fall in love with them all. The narrative structure really allows you to get to know each person and how their experiences weaves this cohesive picture, though it is initially fragmented and needs to be pieced together. Cosmo’s narrative is mainly told through her letters to her mum, giving you that emotional fragility and vulnerability that Cosmo exploits but the reader is drawn to. She’s still processing her grief, acting out and getting drawn into this dangerous scenario. Milano’s presentation of coercive control and abusive relationships is nuanced and feels well-researched. 

Vile Stars is a sadly timely examination of controlling relationships, domestic abuse and manipulation, which has sadly been exacerbated by the pandemic. Above all else, it is raw, honest and authentic. Make sure to keep an eye on what Milano does next.

Next up, I’d like to talk about Such a Good Liar by Sue Wallman. Thank you so much to Harriet Dunlea at Scholastic for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

She’s faking her way into the most exclusive social circles for revenge. But how long can her lies hold up?

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Cornwallis has arrived on a remote island populated only by wealthy families and their staff. She quickly finds acceptance, even adoration, from the close-knit families that rule the island. But a storm is coming, and all routes to the mainland are cut off. But thank goodness the Harrington sisters made it in time, because Lydia simply can’t wait to meet them. That’s because Lydia’s not really Lydia Cornwallis. And the Harringtons have hell to pay for what they’ve done.

Publication Date: 5th May

TW: murder, death fire, suicide, bullying, cheating, manipulation

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Such a Good Liar lives up to its name with a book that will always keep you guessing. 

As a long-time fan of Wallman’s work, I know she is a staple of the YA thriller genre. Her latest offering is just as fiendish, with meticulous plotting and pacing that never relents for a second. This is a book to go into knowing as little as you can. Every time I thought I knew where it was going, I was blindsided by another incredible reveal and shocking plot twist. It is pure chaos, but in the best possible way. The way tensions and stakes just kept climbing higher and higher was so well-done. This made for such an addictive read that I devoured it in one sitting. Wallman’s writing was slick, entertaining and evocative, so much so that the pages just kept turning. 

Our central character of ‘Lydia’ is one I will not be forgetting any time soon. She is so complex and flawed, yet you root for her still. Her character development was exquisite to watch unfold and her justification is one that rings true. When I read the synopsis, I got elements of a YA version of The Talented Mr Ripley and while there are shades of that, this is something fierce and new. This is a book that really interrogates privilege and how much it might protect you. Wallman examines elements of wealth, class and touches upon race as well. She leads you to question the thin line between revenge and justice, especially in a system that protects those deemed important. Keep your eyes peeled, for nearly everything is not quite as it seems. The lurking menace between these facades and veneers of society is a constant and ominous presence that builds to an explosive conclusion. 

Such a Good Liar is a challenging book that forces you to examine your own morality through a compelling, nuanced and provocative protagonist, who is duplicitous and undeniably charismatic. Wallman will keep you hooked. 

Finally, I’d like to delve into I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston. Thank you so much to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy, classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect daughter.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbour with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe – probably not, but maybe – more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy and finding love in unexpected places.

Publication Date: 12th May

TW: homophobia, religious trauma, cheating, ableist language, misogyny

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

I Kissed Shara Wheeler was the queer YA romantic comedy of my dreams. It combined a romantic entanglement scavenger hunt with wonderful characters and a heartfelt exploration of religious trauma & homophobia. 

McQuiston’s writing style is one that seamlessly flows around you and wraps you tightly into their imaginative storytelling. They pour so much heart and soul into their books and you can really feel that burning through the pages. I Kissed Shara Wheeler was straight out of the teen films we all know and love, as it was funny, light and full of heart. The central plotline had some elements of mystery and intrigue to it, which helped build suspense and keep the pacing moving. I loved how well-crafted this was, as it really allowed for the reader to fully disentangle this complicated love affair. Love is celebrated in all its forms and in its never-ending complexity. At times, the dynamics felt vaguely Shakespearan, with everyone interlinking in one way or another. 

This is a book that both celebrates and highlights the issues with small town communities. Chloe spends the book struggling with her own ability to truly love where she is from because of the way they have treated her. McQuiston just so painfully and accurately describes that claustrophobic backwardness, while also celebrating the bright sparks of love and joy invoked by the people and places you hold dear to your heart. For Chloe, Alabama will always be a part of her, but it is only through fully growing to love herself and her family in all its forms that she can reconcile with this. 

Of course, it helps that it is populated with really interesting characters. I would read a spin off following most of these vibrant, articulate and deeply humorous characters. They all felt just so authentically like teenagers, from their dialogue to those unspoken, yearning emotions that bubble just below the surface. Our central quartet in the central scavenger hunt have my whole heart. I loved how messy and complicated they were and how they all had to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery and acceptance in order to achieve a truly happy ending. 

I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a vivacious book bursting with light, love and unapologetic queer representation. This is a book that fills your heart with joy.

4 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #68

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