TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE by Becky Chambers – double review!

In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of galaxy transform themselves.

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

A new standalone novella from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of galaxy transform themselves.


Title : To Be Taught, If Fortunate
Author : Becky Chambers
Format : Paperback arc / hardback
Page Count : 176
Genre : Sci-fi
Publisher : Hodderscape (Hodder & Stoughton)
Release Date : 8 August 2019

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

I didn’t know what to expect from this as a sci-fi novella, unconnected to any story and yet, it blew my expectations out of the water. This is a full-bodied story, detailed and captivating. It was told from the perspective of Ariadne. She was one of four intrepid astronauts who were willing to say goodbye to earth for a long time and to their families forever to explore four different planetary bodies.

The science in this read was complex and yet easy to follow, I grasped the developments that underpinned space exploration in this era. The science first few planetary bodies lulled me in, transfixed me with the descriptions and made me invested in Ariadne, Jack, Chikondi and Elena. Their separate and joined-up intellect was colourful reading and their problem-solving made me want to get closer. The dynamic between the four was fascinating and the glossing around the intimate relationships was fitting and represented a natural diversity. This team were to all intents and purposes, a family.

The status quo did not continue however, and watching the team navigate problems, their isolation and getting the measure of their psychological status was fascinating. The unraveling of various characters felt tangible. This story examines humanity on a small scale and yet humanity on a grand scale became a poignant issue.

Becky Chambers writes complex sci-fi in a palatable, engaging way. This is a novella you are going to want to read and then think about afterwards.

Thank you Hodderscape for this gorgeous early copy of the book.

Hollis’ 4 star review

I really don’t know what to say about this book. I’m coming to it months after Micky’s original review, and the reviews of so many others, all of whom are far more eloquent than me. I just know that this story lulled me into loving it. It was a slow, smart, heartwrenching, and thoughtful, seduction.

I’m an observer, not a conqueror. I have no interest in changing other worlds to suit me. I choose the lighter touch : changing myself to suit them.

I’ve read Chambers before and knew to expect something intelligent and diverse and this novella is no exception to that. I found the narrow, but so wide, scope of this story to be so intimate, so enthralling, and this quartet of explorers, all human and so different, but all with the same goal, to be a group I could have happily read about for a hundred pages more. How this ends really got me and that makes me want so much more, too.

Read this book.

** I received a finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDEFUL by Eric Lindstrom

The heart-rending and inspiring novel from the critically acclaimed author of NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST.

How can you have a future if you can’t accept your past?
Mel Hannigan doesn’t have it easy. Mourning the death of her firework of a brother, trying to fit back into a school she’s been conspicuously absent from and struggling to deal with the loss of three friendships that used to mean everything. Struggling to deal with a condition that not even her closest friends know about.

So Mel tries to lock away her heart, to numb the highs and lows, to live quietly without hope – but also without pain. Until someone new shows her that it can be worth taking a risk, that opening up to life is what can make it glorious…

And that maybe, Mel can discover a tragic kind of wonderful of her very own.


Title : A Tragic Kind of Wonderful
Author : Eric Lindstrom
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 346
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Harper Collins
Release Date : December 29, 2016

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


I’m trying to stow my gush a little but it is not easy. This book was a stunning and memorable read, delivering on a contemporary YA story with the best mental health representation I’ve read in a long time.

Mel has been through stuff, bigger stuff than most teens her age (16-17) have been through, losses, divorce and relocation. Oh yes, and getting to grips with diagnosis of a significant mental illness. Mel was a self-aware and strong teen, at least on the surface. She was endearing in her flaws and had a unique way to track her illness and moods. Each chapter begun with an mind-body-heart-overall update and it was so well thought out.

“I’m a different kind of mixed. Miserable and serene. Heaven and hell are the same place.”

Over this book I felt like I really got to know Mel, I wandered not only into her world but also into her mind and with that I felt sadness, frustration and compassion. The story isn’t all heavy-heavy, there’s plenty of lightness, especially in the first half. Friendships were a key factor in Mel’s mental compass and well-being, when they were right, she did okay but when things went wrong, life got more complex to navigate. Friendships from the past and those from the present had a direct impact on Mel’s life and I really enjoyed the slow unpeeling of where and how things with Annie, Zumi and Connor unravelled. I simply felt everything; it was very raw in the last third.

Another strength of this book was the family context. HJ, her mum, her brother and to a lesser extent, her dad brought such depth to Mel’s character and life. David was a friend to Mel and there was a low-level romance in this book that has the back-seat but is quite beautiful.

I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before considering my love for his previous book NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST. Therefore, it’s no surprise to me that this book blew me away. Eric Lindstrom dealt with this particular mental disorder with thorough research. He addressed labelling, disclosure of diagnosis and I am in awe of the way he depicted life through Mel’s lens.

“You’re not [disorder name], Mel. You have [disorder name]. You also have vibrant blue eyes, a wonderful personality, a tendency to undervalue yourself, and many, many other things. None of those things are you.”

Thank you Amazon vine and the publisher for this gifted title.

AYESHA AT LAST by Uzma Jalaluddin – double review!

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century. 

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind. 


Title : Ayesha At Last
Author : Uzma Jalaluddin
Format : eARC
Page Count : 343
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : HarperCollins
Release Date : June 4 (US & Can), June 12, 2019 (UK)

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ /  ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

4.5 stars that I am rounding up.

I am buzzing finishing this book, I have devoured it in 36 hours as life made me put it down a few times. This was a loose pride and prejudice take set in the Muslim community in Toronto. Most importantly it is own voices written (and a debut).

Khalid is a beta-male character with little to paint an admirable picture of his personality. Khalid was a bit of a jerk, he lacked a verbal filter, judged too quickly but he was definitely misunderstood. Khalid grew on me, he was pretty endearing at times and he was a man with integrity and kindness. He didn’t know how he was perceived but awareness did begin to creep in.

Ayesha was a vibrant character, headstrong, a feminist, bucking some traditions that seemed unnecessary to her. I liked her immediately and her quirky ways. Khalid and Ayesha met through friends initially and later at the mosque organising a conference. Misunderstanding and chemistry seemed to be the nature of their relationship.

“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”

This was a strong story, with amazing side characters, mostly family and community, that painted a rich depth. I was glued to this book and I thought about it when I wasn’t. The connection between Khalid and Ayesha was slow developing but full of feeling. This was a clean read along the lines of pride and prejudice but it didn’t need anything more. I could have done with a little more about Khalid and Ayesha in the end, however.

This is an amazing debut from Uzma Jalaluddin. Her writing flowed beautifully and I was hooked so easily; I am eager to read more from her and this context.

Thank you to Readers First for my review copy.


Hollis’ 2 star review

It pains me to rate this so low considering all the excitement I had surrounding this title, not to mention the brilliant diversity in this particular retelling, but..

If this story had been just about Ayesha and Khalid, with the former’s delightful grandparents thrown into the mix, I probably would’ve rated this much higher. But then it also wouldn’t have been as true to the PRIDE & PREJUDICE retelling. Or.. maybe it could’ve been! All I know is there were so many villains, so many unpleasant characters, and I was just bothered and frustrated by it all.

But even some of the non-villains were just.. annoying. The drama was really turned up and I know this is fictional but I was really uncomfortable, not to mention fairly rage-y, over the discrimination in the workplace plot line. Like.. no, I’m sorry. I just can’t see that going as far as it did; and maybe I’m extra sensitive about it because this took place in my hometown? I’m not saying I’m naive enough to believe things like this don’t happen in some form or another, as much as we think we’re all above it, but it just went too far.

I think what it comes down to, more than anything, is while I’m aware that most of these caricatures existed in the original, I’m honestly starting to wonder if I just can’t get behind the book anymore; if maybe I wouldn’t even like the original if I tried to read it today. Maybe I should just stick to movie or TV adaptations from now on.

I love that this book exists for the representation it brings, I did enjoy the changes to the family structures the author made, could appreciate the Toronto setting (even if it only amounted to random references to Timbits and a fairly loose, though accurate, description of Scarborough..), but.. lots of buts.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

BIRTHDAY by Meredith Russo

Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years…

ERIC: There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side—as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.

MORGAN: I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?

Six years of birthdays reveal Eric and Morgan’s destiny as they come together, drift apart, fall in love, and discover who they’re meant to be—and if they’re meant to be together. From the award-winning author of If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo, comes a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate.


Title : Birthday
Author : Meredith Russo
Format : ARC
Page Count : 275
Genre : YA contemporary, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : May 21, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★/★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

BIRTHDAY blew me away.

I don’t think we have much choice in who we turn out to be, as much as we might want to.

I honestly don’t even know what to say. But my god. I was choking back the sobs by page thirty and that more or less was what I did throughout the rest of the book, too. And just thinking about the journey makes me want to cry.

What do you do when you can’t swim up, you can’t swim down, and staying put will suffocate you?

As always I went in with only a very very vague idea as to what to expect and as a result I was totally unprepared for.. everything. I loved the subject matter, I hurt from the agony of some of Morgan and Eric’s experiences, their struggles, but their enduring connection, the evolution of it, was just so heartbreakingly beautiful. Equally lovely was the way in which the story was told. I’ve read a book or two like this before but never has it suited the story as well as it did for this one.

I don’t know if anyone will love me the way that I really am.

I should have so much to say about this because I loved it so much but I’m honestly just at a loss and a puddle of feelings, so. Here’s a great book with a terrible review to recommend it. And know that I will absolutely be picking up Russo’s debut (IF I WAS YOUR GIRL) and anything and everything else she releases.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I’m not going to cover old ground here having come to this a few months after Hollis but oh my, this book took me on a journey, a very emotional one.

Birthday is laid out as Eric and Morgan’s stories on each birthday from about 12 to 18, there is no narrative in between but there is definitely a catch up on what’s gone on during the gap. Eric and Morgan are an example of an unconditional friendship in their younger years, not an easy one but a giving one. I loved both these characters individually but also in their ‘ship’ journey. (Hollis look away from the use of that word – one off).

As the story evolved there was a bully-Dad who I hated with a passion, some arse-hole family and friends and some decent people on the periphery. My heart was in my mouth, then it was breaking, then it was hopeful, then it was angry…are you feeling my experience, it was pretty emotional. I messaged Hollis at one point to threaten her if this didn’t end well, as she rec’d it to me. Bad friend that I am.

I do think there is a mild case of utopia in this story in that I am not sure an Eric exists for trans teens at that age but I do hope and believe that an Eric can come into their life at a later date. That said, I loved how the story developed and I wouldn’t change a thing.

This is the kind of book that I want everyone to read, to open their mind to feel the personal journey of individuals. This is the kind of book that helps me as an educator working with young people who sometimes knock on my office door and break their hearts over major things like this. Go read it.

THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang – double review!

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


Title : The Bride Test
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book two)
Format : eARC / paperback
Page Count : 315
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley / Atlantic
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

She got you a mail-order bride from Vietnam, Khai.
Why do you say it so it sounds so bad? She’s not a ‘mail-order bride’. I met her in person.

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I loved THE KISS QUOTIENT. I was so excited when Hoang announced a companion to her world that would not only feature a male lead with autism, though would not be quite like what we experienced with Stella, but would be equally diverse, too. And I really did enjoy being inside Khai’s head. When he wasn’t breaking my heart, that is. Esme, too, was a wonderful heroine. Strong and determined but taking chances, and risks, not for personal gain — or, rather, not only for it — but for her family.

She didn’t need a rich man. She just needed someone who was hers.

The conflicts in this story, Khai’s belief that he’s unable to feel emotion (and, conversely, his inability to handle soft touches and how instead he needs to be handled firmly, held tightly), and Esme’s self-worth as an uneducated immigrant, feel genuine and real; and reading the author’s note helps to explain why these characters resonate so strongly. Khai’s brother, Quan, is a character I want to know more about, too, because he all but leapt off the page at me. Plus, yeah, I want more.

It was easier to keep people at arm’s length when it was for their own good instead of his. That way, he got to be a hero instead of a coward.

However, I’ll admit that this read didn’t consume me the way THE KISS QUOTIENT did. While I so loved when these two got together (hell, even the build-up and the way Esme’s presence wreaked havoc on Khai was fabulous), even if they weren’t yet on the same page, even if they had yet to divulge all their secrets, it was something of a slower start, and as much as I loved these characters, I think I still wanted.. more. I did love the epilogue, though, which I thought to be a much more reasonable ending after all the dramatic excitement just before the final chapter. But that’s all I’m saying.

He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Should you read this? Absolutely. Will it overtake your love for the THE KISS QUOTIENT? To each their own. It’s definitely a sweet, funny, swoony, and a totally worthy addition to the author’s little universe.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

How do I follow up Hollis’ and many others’ reviews of this rather special book? I don’t know but I’m going to give you a snapshot of my experience. Hold on while I gush because a mail-order bride story with diverse representation, you say. Signed up.

What starts off as an interesting Vietnamese character, My, quickly transports to the US where My renames herself Esme, ready to take on the challenge of being the wife-to-be for Khai. Esme was a ball of self-proclaimed inadequacy, desperate to provide for her family. The slow transformation of a twinkling of Esme’s self-belief and beginning to live for herself was beautiful as it unfolded. I was drawn to her humility, her heart on her sleeve and genuineness.

“Sky and earth, she wanted to taste that smile. And each of those dimples.”

Khai didn’t feel or emote and despairing, his mother went on a special mission to find him a wife, a companion. Khai didn’t know what he wanted or needed, he lived by his routines and the satisfaction in intellectual tasks. However, in little ways, Khai was a stand-up guy for his brother and his mother that gave insight into the caring man he could be. This book brought such believable character development as he navigated the heart connection and sexual attraction.

There wasn’t one thing I didn’t enjoy about this story. It was engaging, it represented topics that we need to read and hear about more, such as, immigration, autism spectrum disorders, poverty and access to education. Helen Hoang wove these issues seamlessly without pontificating, through real lives. Most of all, I adored Khai and Esme, together, apart, awkward and yet natural together, fish sauce and all.

“Her curves fit to his hollows, soft to hard, smooth to rough, the perfect debit to his credit.”

Thank you Atlantic books for the review copy, I feel lucky to have read this early.

THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK by Lucy Parker – double review!


A double review today and we are very in tune over the greatness of this book. In fact, we recommend all of Lucy Parker’s books.

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.


Title : The Austen Playbook
Author
: Lucy Parker
Format : eBook / eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : April 22, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ ★ .25 / ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4.25 star review

The man looked like an assassin in a war film, and would be temperamentally suited to the part. He probably even orgasmed with a frosty stare into the middle distance.

I finished THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK with happy tears in my eyes. This book gave me all the feels. And all the lols, too. As usual I highlighted the crap out of this book.

She wanted to do productions that she wholeheartedly enjoyed, she wanted a passion outside of theatre, and really — she just wanted to be happy. She also wanted other people to be happy, and it often seemed to be an either/or choice.

Parker’s grumpy heroes are some of my favourite, and Griff is no exception, but we need to talk more about her real and charming heroines, too. Freddy was forking fabulous. But the added element of reality to the author’s romances (stretch marks, bad shower sex, just to name a few delightful examples) are what keep this grounded and balanced considering the London West End-style hijinks and drama that tend to ensue.

According to London Celebrity, control freaks are at much greater risk for arthritis, impotence, and pattern baldness. Just so you know.
As long as you have a reliable source.

This couple was so beautifully, wonderfully, honest. Their openness, their communication, the acceptance of their feelings.. it was just gorgeous. It made me happy, and fuzzy, and very swoony.

His tone conjured images of empty chocolate boxes, and the aftermath of a party, and missing the bus by thirty seconds, and all of life’s fleeing moments of gloom.

Set against a live-action whodunit Austen performance, there are reveals and betrayals and all sorts of excitement to be had. There was really nothing I didn’t love about this one but, as always, Parker includes some nastier characters in amongst the lovelier ones.. though I just about died when one of said nasties got a wooden phallus in the eye. Trust me, not only is it on brand for the story, it’s just what she deserves.

For a man who grew up in a house with blowjob carvings on the library mantle, you’re very judgmental of other people’s decor.

With each new addition to the London Celebrities series, it’s getting harder and harder to have a favourite couple because they are all so wonderful. Freddy and Griff are a great addition to this world and I hope to see them in some of Parker’s famous extras and, maybe, even in the background of book five? Hmm? Maybe?

Calls me a contagious joy fairy when we’re alone in a dusty backroom. Compares me to a stagnant pond in a London newspaper. Timing, my friend. It’s a beautiful thing.

Highly recommend.


Micky’s 4 star review

Delightful and witty with a great story to keep the reader fully engaged, THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK continued the series with the same quality of writing and development of characters that I have come to expect from Lucy Parker.

Book four took the setting outside of London to Grumpy Griff’s (Ford-Griffen) country seat. Griff was a TV/stage critic whilst managing the failing finances of his family’s home. Griff had thrown a few review punches at Freddy, the quirky heroine, in the past. Freddy was a breath of positive fresh air with some vulnerabilities hidden behind the ‘everything will be okay’ facade. I took to her immediately.

“He was frequently rude, definitely a Slytherin, and clearly viewed her as a sort of irritating insect who kept buzzing around his space, but there was something very reassuring about his solid warmth when she hurt.”

There was an interwoven backstory behind the main story of a play in the country. Freddy and Griff were thrown into each other’s paths and there was a persistent, bubbling chemistry between them. I had all the feelings when they were interacting, either with looks or banter.

“It was more than physical; it was a building and layering of a bond that went much deeper than that.”

As well as the clever backstory (which Parker conveys with ease), there were a literal cast of side characters, brothers, mean girls, fathers, colleagues and sisters. There is something about the acting world on stage that Lucy Parker translates so well to the reader. The English setting was spot on as always with dialogue, colloquialisms and contexts. The banter and dialogue were engaging. My only little niggle was the unstated dual POV, I loved the dual POV but had ‘who is this’ moments, however I did settle into it.

I can’t recommend this series enough and the best thing is they standalone, you can dip your toe into any of them and read out of order if that’s how you roll. Go discover Lucy Parker and you won’t regret it.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book. Thank you Carina Press and Netgalley.