contemporary fiction

READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.

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REVIEW: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

When Andie’s dad is caught up in a political scandal, all her summer plans are thrown into chaos. No more summer internship, instead she finds herself with a summer job as a dog walker. She’s not used to not having everything planned out but having everything be unexpected for once could mean a chance for love and new experiences.

The Unexpected Everything is a delightful book. At over 500 pages I was worried it would take me a while to read but in the end, I read it in just one day. I got pulled in by Andie’s story and all her friends, and by the fact there was so many dogs. Honestly if you like dogs, this book is for you as its not only the characters that are interesting and a lot of fun but the many dogs Andie ends up walking are too.

Andie is the kind of character that normally would rub me up the wrong way as she’s often quite selfish and likes everyone and everything to fit in her own plans, but much of the story is about her growing as a person and seeing how she is seen by other people. Andie doesn’t like letting people get close to her or even tell people she’s in a relationship with anything of real substance about herself – this all comes to ahead when she meets Clark. The romance between Andie and dog owner Clark is sweet and has your usual lack of communication confusion but the story has a lot of charm and Andie and Clark both have their flaws and still compliment each other that I was rooting for them.

I really liked Andie’s friendship group, their summer adventures and how The Unexpected Everything showed that some relationships can be quite overwhelming and we all need are space from those we care about. I also really liked how Andie’s relationship with her dad was so believable, they’d not had anything to do with each other for so long so suddenly being around each other led to an interesting dynamic.

The Unexpected Everything is the perfect summer read. It’s fun, has moments of humour and lots of characters you want to be happy. 5/5.

REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In her everyday life Eliza Mirk is shy, awkward and hates school, but in the online world she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of mega popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine ever enjoying the real world as much as the online one so she never really bothers to try. That is until Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction author, transfers to Eliza’s school and, believing Eliza is just another fan, he begins to draw her out of her shell. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally revealed everything in her life is thrown into turmoil, her relationship with Wallace, her art and even her sanity.

I loved this book. I’ve been wary of books about fandom because I’ve always kind of felt that the first rule of fandom, is that you don’t talk about fandom. But I’m so happy that Eliza and Her Monsters showed me that there can be great books about fandom that respects and understands it.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a mix-media novel, it includes panels from Monstrous Sea as well as emails, letters and instant messages. This, plus the fact the book is great, helps make Eliza and Her Monsters a really quick read. I loved how the extracts from Monstrous Sea often mirrored the situations Eliza found herself in, giving you an extra insight as to where her mind is at. The Monstrous Sea story was just as interesting as Eliza’s story and the book did a great job of explaining the plot of the webcomic enough that when characters discussed who their favourite characters were, you had a good idea who they were talking about.

Eliza’s two best friends are Max and Emmie and they’ve never met face to face. I love how Eliza and Her Monsters shows how people behind a computer screen can be, and often are, just as important a connection as those you see in the flesh. The three of them are all great friends who not only share the fandom stuff but their real-life events too. I also liked how Eliza realises and apologises when she does sometimes takes Max and Emmie for granted, she’s a flawed, ordinary person who mistakes and I loved reading about her.

I was on edge as the story progressed as I could tell that Eliza’s internet identity would come out and everything she had with Wallace would be put in jeopardy. I hate confrontation, both in real life and in fiction, and had grown so attached to Eliza that I didn’t want to see her hurt.

I loved Eliza and Her Monsters. I loved how various characters grew on me as the story progressed, how I could relate to Eliza but still get frustrated with her sometimes, the complexities of online and offline personas – it was all so great. Eliza and Her Monsters made me cry because it hit me right in the feels and that hasn’t happened with a book for a long time. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighboured she grew up in and the posh high school she attends where she’s one of two black kids there. The uneasy balance between the two is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of Khalil, her unarmed best friend, by a police officer. Now if Starr speaks up it could destroy her community, and it could get her killed.

Starr witnesses a terrible crime and you’re right there with her as she goes through the stages of grief. She’s so strong and brave but she doesn’t always feel that way. You feel her pain and anger but you also can understand her parents who just want to keep her safe – whether that means speaking out about what happened or keeping it a secret. I loved Starr and her family. Her parents are kind of #relationshipgoals and parenting goals really, they both may have made mistakes in the past but they love each other and their children and will do anything to make life better for them.

The Hate U Give is brilliantly written – there’s so many lines I could quote that are either touching or profound or just funny. While there’s all this awfulness going on in Starr’s life, she’s still a teenager and the way her voice, and the voice of all the teens in the book are captured, makes it so real. There’s arguments with her boyfriend, the in-jokes she shares with her brothers, and there’s something not right between her and her friends and she doesn’t know why, but knows it started when one of them stopped following her on Tumblr – it’s stuff like that that helps make all these characters feel vibrant and real.

The Hate U Give is sometimes a tough read, it pulls on your heart and makes you just as angry and frustrated as Starr. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as it’s so similar to real life events that have happened over the past few years that you just don’t know if everything will be alright. It still manages to give you a bit of hope though, that while some people won’t change, others will or will use their voice.

The Hate U Give is a phenomenal book about friendship, loyalty, family and using your voice. It made me smile, it made me tear up and I can’t recommend it enough. 5/5.

REVIEW: Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams

*I received a free e-copy of this book in return for an honest review*

When Flora, a post-graduate Uni student, falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year of studies her plans for her future are thrown into chaos as she now has someone else to look out for. As Flora reads many baby books she must figure out if she will continue with her recent affair with a handsome lecturer or should she chase after the past with her estranged first love?

Letters to Eloise is an example of epistolary fiction as it’s made up of a series of letters from Flora to her unborn child. They start as soon as Flora realises she’s pregnant and follows all the ups and downs of pregnancy. The letters also slowly reveal the circumstances of her baby being conceived, the potential dads (though Flora is always confident in who the father is, it takes a while for her to tell the reader) and the good and bad times Flora has had with friends, family and love interests. Sometimes it can be a bit confusing as Flora’s letters go back and forth from the present to various points in the past but I soon got my head around it.

I’ve never read a book where one of the main themes or storyline is pregnancy (and I’ve never been pregnant myself) so I was unsure how I would connect with a book, and a character, whose pretty much whole life now revolves around being pregnant and being an expectant mother. But I did connect with Flora. Her student life and the friends she has at university, are what pulled me in to start with but she’s a likable and understandable character and I wanted to see her happy.

I loved the dynamic between Flora, her best friend Brooke and their housemate Brian. It felt like the sort of relationship I had with my university friends and flatmates, especially how there’s very few secrets between them.

Letters to Eloise is set during the early and mid-1990’s and I really liked how the lack of mobile phones and the internet was naturally woven into the story. Flora would send letters to people or have to go to a phone box at the end of the street if she needed to call someone as her student house didn’t have a landline. It’s great as this time where people weren’t necessarily so easy to contact allows for some drama and surprises.

Letters to Eloise is a book that sucks you in, it’s a small, almost personal story but it’s a touching one. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Graces by Laure Eve

The GracesLike everyone in her small seaside town, River is obsessed with the Graces. They’re a family with wealth, secrets, beauty and glamour, and everyone says they are witches. River wants to be like them and she wants to be liked by them. River wants to be a part of the Graces world and she knows exactly what she’s doing. Doesn’t she?

The Graces is a slow, atmospheric book that has a lot of mystery. You don’t know why River and her mum have moved to this town, you know very little about the Grace’s and while there is talk of magic and spells are performed it treads that fine line of being real and just a fantasy. The magical element of The Graces is one of the interesting things about the story, is magic real or does it not matter if it’s real or not, what matters is what you believe to be true? This is the idea that runs throughout The Graces as various things happen that make you question whether magic is really playing a part in these characters’ lives or if it is all pure coincidence.

It’s hard to connect with both River and the Grace children because they all hide so much of themselves from everyone. With the Graces, it adds to their mystery and makes sense but with River, even though the book is from her point of view you don’t really know much about her or her motivations for wanting to be so close to the Graces. It’s hard to connect with River as she seems to be keeping secrets from her friends and from herself so you never really know who she is. River changes herself to make the Graces like her, watching how everyone else who don’t manage to get the Graces attention acts and doing the exact opposite.

The Graces, Summer, Thalia and Fenrin, are a part of a family that likes to keep their affairs private and that just adds to the mystery surrounding them. They’re glamorous and come from old money so the weird things that happen around them could easily be put down to that rather than magic that Summer and River both desperately want to believe in.

The setting of The Graces, this beautiful small town on the British coast adds to the mystic surrounding the Graces. They are a family who has been in the area for generations so the woods and the sea almost seems a part of their identity. This adds to the mystery and potential magic of the story.

The Graces is an intriguing read even though not a lot happens until about two thirds of the way through. There’s something about the mystery that kept me reading even though I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: The List by Siobhan Vivian

the listEvery September The List is posted all over school. Two girls from each year are picked. One is named the prettiest while one is named the ugliest. The girls who are picked are suddenly known by the entire school and each reacts differently to the experience. This year’s victims are Danielle, Abby, Candace, Lauren, Sarah, Bridget, Jennifer and Margo and they all struggle with their new-found fame. Because whether they were named prettiest or ugliest, they’ll never be the same.

The List is set during the week leading up to the school’s Homecoming dance. On Monday morning the infamous list is posted all around school and throughout the week you seen how the eight girls try to deal with featuring on it. No one knows who has written it and as it’s a yearly tradition it’s something that must be passed down through the students so there’s a mystery element as the girls, as well as the Principal try and figure out why they were featured on the list and who wrote it in the first place. I thought it was good that the Principal was actually aware of the List and wanted to do something about it. Often in high school stories teachers are oblivious to a school-wide drama but here, Principal Colby was new to the school and did not like this so-called tradition at all.

The List is a bit of a distressing book to read. It takes everything girls fear about themselves while in high school and shines a spotlight on it. As well as self-confidence and bullying, The List features eating disorders and overly-controlling parents. There’s relationship trouble and fights between sisters, The List really packs a lot in. However, because each of the eight girls need to react to the List, all these themes aren’t really touched upon fully or don’t have a proper resolution, especially because it’s just a week of their lives. There’s some characters you’re left wondering about while others have a solid character arc, again that’s probably because there’s so many characters to follow in such a small space of time.

The List is a fairly quick contemporary read. It helps that at the beginning of the book it has a copy of the List so as you’re jumping around, following different girls you can quickly see whether they were named prettiest or ugliest. It is interesting to see how these eight girl’s lives start to intertwine because they were all featured on the List. Especially when you get to see what they think of each other and the situation they are all in. Obviously the girls who are named “prettiest” seem best off but that’s not always the case while the “ugly” girls struggle a lot and discover who their real friends are.

The List is full of female characters, some are clichés while others are more layered and some aren’t even that likable – it’s great to see such a mixture in a YA novel. It’s an interesting mix and along with a concept that I’d hate to be real, makes a gripping and quick read. 4/5.