I’d seen ‘The Hating Game’ novel around the blog-o-sphere and in stores, but was never inclined to pick it up. I like contemporaries, but tend to read them as pallet cleansers, or books in-between heavier titles as a way to rest my brain. Nothing about the hype around ‘The Hating Game’ particularly reached out to me until I saw the movie trailer, and then went out and bought it immediately – maybe they book marketing team needed to tweak their campaign or re-write the blurb? The movie trailer came across as comedic and sarcastic – and I’m a big fan of Lucy Hale who portrays the story’s protagonist. Who doesn’t enjoy a good romcom every now and then?
I read the book before the film was released, it has a tone of being funny and deliciously spiteful. Though, the story comes off as tropey with unrealistic characters and plot. Some of the situations in the novel verge on abuse. And the protagonist, Lucy and her competitor/work mate/love interest Joshua come off like two thirteen year olds having inappropriate sexual activity. So, at a glance I wasn’t really sold on this tome. But if you don’t take it too seriously it can be some camp fun. But I like a little more substance to my reading. The film by comparison has characters and a storyline much more realistic and believable. The cast are much more charming and likeable, and all of the plot points introduced are resolved in the film, where the book leaves many hanging.
The writing style of Sally Thorne is light and easy to read, though there were too many repeated phrases. And I felt like I wanted more story – not just the romance. The book felt shallow and very predictable, I even guessed the plot twists very early on. To the point that I skimmed a lot near the end, especially with pages of intimate scenes that became a bit boring. Not especially titillating. I didn’t particularly like the Lucy or Joshua as depicted in the novel, and therefore was not really invested in their story.
Contrasting the issues I had with the book, the film is released as a Christmas movie (though the book is set at a non-disclosed time of the year, and place.) I enjoyed the backdrop of New York for the screen adaptation and many of the secondary cast of characters are much more interesting. I prefer the treatment of the film to the book… everyone is much less nasty. I think the actors chosen were able to realise much more into the characters.
The relationship between Lucy and Joshua (played by Austin Stowell) feels a lot more natural and loving with the on-screen interpretation, which I believe is its saving grace. Joshua is especially a more of a good guy, where in the book he comes off as a dick. The film also shows more of the faults of Lucy… she bumbles through life and is somewhat destructive and self-sabotaging, it’s not really addressed like this in the book.
On a side note, in comparing the book to the film, the colour of choice is green and not blue to match Lucy Hale’s eye colour when Joshua is trying to be flirty and express his feelings – you’ll understand once you have either read the book or viewed the movie.
The novel does a great job in building angst. And while heavily troped and stereotyped I did enjoy it. But it’s definitely the film for the win – the camp source material and ability to add more dimension to the characters gives it the edge.
There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all this friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.
Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.
This is cute and adorable, I liked the frank representation of sex and some of the spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. But for an #ownvoices author to write a story about a gay character where his entire story was about being gay in a sea of community members screaming that gay characters are more than the sexuality, that there is nuance, other motivations… and it was addressed in this novel, but it just left me with a big, disappointed sigh. If you removed all the talk about sex, or the actual chapters of sexual activity, this novel would be lucky to be 50 pages long. It just felt like it took up too much of the plot and left me somewhat bored.
Our protagonist Jay has a decent character arc, but from thinking him cute in the first few chapters to completely disliking him by the end of the novel is some achievement. I question a lot of Jay’s actions and decisions… and to be frank, there are some issues about sexual responsibility, trust, and honesty that are glazed over for the sake of making this a light fluffy romance.
I felt like we could have gotten more development on all of the characters – I don’t feel like I really got to know them properly.
This story was very predictable, and for me, not in a good way. I would have preferred a different ending.
Jason June’s writing style is pleasant and I really enjoyed their flow and humour… I just felt like the story needed a bit more dimension, some subtext, and not such a prominent role of sex in the storyline – it removed some realism for me.
Also it felt like the author wrote themselves into the story in the form of Max, and once I saw it, I couldn’t shake it. I don’t know if I appreciated the representation, or found it cheesy.
I have noticed that Jason June has put up that a sequel in coming on Goodreads. I’m not sure how eager I am to continue with this series – we’ll have to see what kind of story they intend to tell. If it is more of a redemption arc for Jay, I may give this author a second try.
‘Jay’s Gay Agenda‘ was cute. Don’t necessarily agree with some of the messages it was sending. I don’t think I would recommend this one.
Riley McCullough thought her best friend getting ‘dragged’ off to Puerto Vallarta for the first two weeks of summer vacation was the end of the world―at least until the bombs fell. Life in suburban New Jersey with her mother is comfortable, not to mention boring, to an introverted fourteen-year-old. As if her friend’s surprise trip didn’t suck enough, her ‘best summer ever’ falls to pieces when she’s sent across the country to stay with a father she hasn’t seen in six years. Adjusting to a tiny, desert town where everyone stares at her like she doesn’t belong proves difficult, and leaves her feeling more isolated than ever. To make matters worse, her secretive father won’t tell the truth about why he left—or what he’s hiding. Her luck takes a turn for the better when she meets a boy who shares her interest in video games and contempt for small town boredom. Alas, her happiness is short lived. To escape nuclear Armageddon, she shelters with her dad in a bunker he’d spent years preparing. After fourteen days without sun, Riley must overcome the sorrow of losing everything to save the family she still has.
Told from Riley’s perspective, with the death of her mother and having to live with her estranged father, who has a cabin in an isolated spot in New Mexico. Her life is turned upside down. To top it off she survives what is perceived as a nuclear strike as her and her father take shelter in a bunker… life has changed forever and Riley has to find the strength to deal with her new circumstances.
I felt our protagonist Riley was written well and had depth and complexity. All of the reveals, and Riley’s reactions to them felt plausible and realistic; though – would have liked her to question more. But being a fish out of water and dealing with grief would distract her from critical thinking.
This had one of the most realistic death and mourning scenes I’ve read in a while. It so closely mirrored my own experiences – a sudden death, being there at the hospital when they’re gone, being with the body, having a small funeral and how grief comes in waves afterwards.
The middle of this book did feel slow – not a lot happened, but it matched the isolated tone of a small town in New Mexico.
There is a great plot twist, but it didn’t come as a surprise, I’d sleuthed it out very early on. The clues are subtle, but if you’re paying attention they are glaringly obvious.
The storyline was fairly simple, but the plot did not feel lacking. The story was compelling and I read it in 2 sittings. Though I’m not really wanting to explore other titles from Matthew S. Cox. I was initially interested but upon discovering nearly all his titles have a tween protagonist, the target demographic felt a little young, and something about an older man continually writing from this point of view left me uncomfortable. Plus, I’d wanted a bit more variety in writing style.
I’d definitely recommend this for younger readers, it’s perfect for its intended market. I definitely enjoyed my time with this book.
For those of you who still know what a rotary phone is… this one’s for you!
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Magical Realism
No. of pages: 310
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
Who here doesn’t want to discover a magical phone and talk to someone in their past to fix mistakes and head-off roadblocks? Sign me up! Girl, an Accounting degree was never your calling, and stop falling for gay guys – you don’t have the equipment for that.
A lovely concept, and a cute romance. But half the story felt whiny, and there were so many moments with other characters that got me frustrated, like Georgie couldn’t control any aspect of her life.
There were long expositions on her inner thoughts and her relationship with Neal. There were also a lot of flashbacks – on top of the magical telephone where she was speaking to a younger Neal. It felt… messy.
The pacing felt slow, because there was just too much cringey, long-winded, wallowing in self-pity. I wasn’t sold much on the romance either, I loved the connection Neal and Georgie had, but the description of their lives made me feel a bit hollow. It’s not the kind of relationship I fantasize about, or even like to read about for entertainment.
Rainbow Rowell has a delicate writing style, but this felt bogged down with too much regret and sorrow. I did love some of the relationships with other family members (even if at times they were frustrating) because they added colour and levity to the narrative. It did feel like a short novel, but it could have been edited at least another 50 pages shorter to keep the pace going so I wasn’t skimming forward in parts. I love me some angst, but this was lamenting over Georgie’s misgivings…. I’m like: girl, snap out of it and do something. Take control of your life.
Georgie does have a small character arc which is quaint, but this book didn’t give me the sucker punch I wanted. And very little feels to be honest, which pains me because I’ve really enjoyed the other titles I’ve read from Rainbow Rowell.
I’m not sure I’d recommend this one, its okay, but I’d feel much more confident recommending other titles and different romances with a magical realism element.
I waded through over a whopping 200 new releases for June to find the top picks I’m interested in. This list is dominated by mystery/thrillers and romance. There’s definitely three titles I’m looking to add to my shopping list… the rest I’m still undecided about. I wonder what will tip my opinion either way?
The Only One Left – Riley Sager (Thriller/Mystery)
At seventeen, Lenora Hope Hung her sister with a rope
Now reduced to a schoolyard chant, the Hope family murders shocked the Maine coast one bloody night in 1929. While most people assume seventeen-year-old Lenora was responsible, the police were never able to prove it. Other than her denial after the killings, she has never spoken publicly about that night, nor has she set foot outside Hope’s End, the cliffside mansion where the massacre occurred.
Stabbed her father with a knife Took her mother’s happy life
It’s now 1983, and home-health aide Kit McDeere arrives at a decaying Hope’s End to care for Lenora after her previous nurse fled in the middle of the night. In her seventies and confined to a wheelchair, Lenora was rendered mute by a series of strokes and can only communicate with Kit by tapping out sentences on an old typewriter. One night, Lenora uses it to make a tantalizing offer—I want to tell you everything.
“It wasn’t me,” Lenora said But she’s the only one not dead
As Kit helps Lenora write about the events leading to the Hope family massacre, it becomes clear there’s more to the tale than people know. But when new details about her predecessor’s departure come to light, Kit starts to suspect Lenora might not be telling the complete truth—and that the seemingly harmless woman in her care could be far more dangerous than she first thought.
The Silent Bride – Shalini Boland (Thriller)
It’s the wedding day of Alice’s dreams. Until it becomes a nightmare…
Alice and Seth are a perfect love story: the handsome doctor and his beautiful fiancée. They’re wealthy, well liked and made for each other—the envy of all their friends. Alice can’t wait for the day of their dream wedding. But when she arrives at the altar, she doesn’t recognise the man waiting to marry her.
When this stranger insists he’s Seth, her husband-to-be, the entire congregation seems to agree. Even her parents try to persuade Alice to go through with the wedding.
As panic sets in, Alice’s world comes apart. Where is the real Seth, and why have all traces of him disappeared from her life? Fearing she’s losing her mind, she sets out to uncover the truth and escape the nightmare she’s living in. But with everyone around her convinced by the fake Seth, how can she ever hope to find the man she loves?
Borrow My Heart – Kasie West (YA, Contemporary, Romance)
When a girl overhears a guy getting verbally destroyed by his friends for being catfished, she jumps in to save the day—and pretends to be his online crush. A young adult romance from the critically acclaimed author of Places We’ve Never Been.
Wren is used to being called a control freak. She doesn’t care; sticking to the list of rules she created for herself helps her navigate life. But when a cute guy named Asher walks through the door of her neighborhood coffee shop, the rulebook goes out the window.
Asher is cute, charming . . . and being catfished by his online crush. So Wren makes an uncharacteristically impulsive decision—she pretends to be the girl he’s waiting for to save him from embarrassment. Suddenly she’s fake-dating a boy she knows nothing about. And it’s . . . amazing.
It’s not long before Asher has her breaking even more of her own rules. But will he forgive her when he finds out she’s not who she says she is? Wren’s not so sure. . . . After all, rules exist for a reason.
…and the following 5 novels I’m still undecided about:
From New York Times bestselling author J.C. Cervantes comes a sparkling, unforgettable YA romance, perfect for fans of You’ve Reached Sam.
Best friends and soul mates since they were kids, Hart Augusto and Ruby Armenta were poised to take on senior year together when Hart tragically drowns in a boating accident. Absolutely shattered, Ruby struggles to move on from the person she knows was her forever love.
Hart can’t let go of Ruby either…. Due to some divine intervention, he’s offered a second chance. Only it won’t be as simple as bringing him back to life–instead, Hart’s soul is transferred to the body of local bad boy.
When Hart returns to town as Jameson, he realizes that winning Ruby back will be more challenging than he’d imagined. For one, he’s forbidden from telling Ruby the truth. And with each day he spends as Jameson, memories of his life as Hart begin to fade away.
Though Ruby still mourns Hart, she can’t deny that something is drawing her to Jameson. As much as she doesn’t understand the sudden pull, it can’t be ignored. And why does he remind her so much of Hart? Desperate to see if the connection she feels is real, Ruby begins to open her heart to Jameson–but will their love be enough to bridge the distance between them?
The Seven Year Slip – Ashley Poston (Contemporary, Romance, Magical Realism)
An overworked book publicist with a perfectly planned future hits a snag when she falls in love with her temporary roommate…only to discover he lives seven years in the past, in this witty and wise new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dead Romantics.
Sometimes, the worst day of your life happens, and you have to figure out how to live after it.
So Clementine forms a plan to keep her heart work hard, find someone decent to love, and try to remember to chase the moon. The last one is silly and obviously metaphorical, but her aunt always told her that you needed at least one big dream to keep going. And for the last year, that plan has gone off without a hitch. Mostly. The love part is hard because she doesn’t want to get too close to anyone—she isn’t sure her heart can take it.
And then she finds a strange man standing in the kitchen of her late aunt’s apartment. A man with kind eyes and a Southern drawl and a taste for lemon pies. The kind of man that, before it all, she would’ve fallen head-over-heels for. And she might again.
Except, he exists in the past. Seven years ago, to be exact. And she, quite literally, lives seven years in his future.
Her aunt always said the apartment was a pinch in time, a place where moments blended together like watercolors. And Clementine knows that if she lets her heart fall, she’ll be doomed.
After all, love is never a matter of time—but a matter of timing.
Zero Days – Ruth Ware (Mystery/Thriller)
The New York Times bestselling “new Agatha Christie” (Air Mail) Ruth Ware returns with this adrenaline-fueled thriller that combines Mr. and Mrs. Smith with The Fugitive about a woman in a race against time to clear her name and find her husband’s murderer.
Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband, Gabe, are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes horribly wrong, Jack arrives home to find her husband dead. To add to her horror, the police are closing in on their suspect—her.
Suddenly on the run and quickly running out of options, Jack must decide who she can trust as she circles closer to the real killer in this unputdownable and heart-pounding mystery from an author whose “propulsive prose keeps readers on the hook and refuses to let anyone off until all has been revealed” (Shelf Awareness).
Have You Seen Her – Catherine McKenzie (Mystery/Thriller)
A thrilling and timely novel about three women with dark secrets whose lives intersect in the picturesque and perilous Yosemite National Park from the USA TODAY bestselling author of Please Join Us.
Equipped with a burner phone and a new job, Cassie Peters has left her hectic and secretive life in New York City for the refuge of her hometown of Mammoth Lakes, California. There, she begins working again with Yosemite Search and Rescue, where a case she worked a decade ago continues to haunt her.
She quickly falls into old patterns, joining a group of fellow seasonal workers and young adventurers who have made Yosemite their home during the summer. There, she meets Petal, a young woman living in a trailer with her much older wife, keeping a detailed diary of the goings on of the park, and Jada, a recent college graduate on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, documenting their journey on Instagram.
When these three women cross paths, Cassie’s past catches up with her, and the shocking consequences ripple out far beyond what any could have imagined in this unputdownable thriller.
We Could Be So Good – Cat Sebastian (Historical Fiction, Romance, Queer)
Colleen Hoover meets The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo in this mid-century romdram about a scrappy reporter and a newspaper mogul’s son–perfect for Newsies shippers.
Nick Russo has worked his way from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood to a reporting job at one of the city’s biggest newspapers. But the late 1950s are a hostile time for gay men, and Nick knows that he can’t let anyone into his life. He just never counted on meeting someone as impossible to say no to as Andy.
Andy Fleming’s newspaper-tycoon father wants him to take over the family business. Andy, though, has no intention of running the paper. He’s barely able to run his life–he’s never paid a bill on time, routinely gets lost on the way to work, and would rather gouge out his own eyes than deal with office politics. Andy agrees to work for a year in the newsroom, knowing he’ll make an ass of himself and hate every second of it.
Except, Nick Russo keeps rescuing Andy: showing him the ropes, tracking down his keys, freeing his tie when it gets stuck in the ancient filing cabinets. Their unlikely friendship soon sharpens into feelings they can’t deny. But what feels possible in secret–this fragile, tender thing between them–seems doomed in the light of day. Now Nick and Andy have to decide if, for the first time, they’re willing to fight.
There were some other titles that could have made this list, but I was trying to be brutal because the number of books that piqued my interest was enormous – and I’m trying to limit my book buying. Any titles that you think should be on this list let me know in the comments.
Stephen ingeniously bypasses his landmark 30th birthday, only to have the cosy life he took for granted unravel completely. Abandoned by friends and lovers, he finds distraction in online dating websites and real-life impersonations. But has Stephen met his match in Damon, the wicked witch of the inner west, whose conniving tricks threaten to eclipse Stephen’s own antics? Life for Stephen beyond his twenties just seems fraught with heartaches, deception, and humiliation in this witty, sexy satire on contemporary gay Sydney life.
I was so excited to return to Stephen’s story that was introduced in ‘Vanity Fierce’ and see how he further fares in the Sydney gay scene, how he has grown. Aitken’s writing was so comedic and satirical ‘The Indignities’ should prove to be a snapshot of Aussie queer culture.
Not so much… this was basically a sex romp. The characters feel two dimensional and there isn’t much character development… mainly because the story is so focused on sex there isn’t much room for anything else. The novel was very predictable, the tone and hints were set in the first chapter – and there were no surprises. To be frank I found myself speed reading most of this book because I wanted more substance. ‘The Indignities’ should be categorized as erotica instead of contemporary.
Disappointed and recommend everyone give this a big miss. It adds nothing to the story established in the debut ‘Vanity Fierce.’
This feels like it hasn’t aged well (written nearly 15 years ago.) I could almost taste the self-obsessed white privilege dripping from the pages. I was hoping to see a transformation in our protagonist Stephen from the debut, but he is the same body-conscious, sex obsessed, whining-that-my-life-is-over-because-I’m-thirty, gay man that had me rolling my eyes. So superficial – I’m bored. I can’t express how much I wish I could thwack Stephen over the back of the head with a two-by-four!
When I reached the halfway and there was still no plot: just all this talk about sex, cheating, sexcapades, a so called married couple bickering and trying to seduce the hot neighbour. None of this was even delivered in a comedic way or sexy way (like it was in ‘Vanity Fierce’) – it just fell flat. It’s all kind of pitiful, sad, and distasteful. It was disheartening after such notable works from Aitken like the debut and ’50 Ways of Saying Fabulous.’
Where book one, ‘Vanity Fierce’ was ground-breaking when it was first published, launching into a landscape that had little mainstream GLBTQIA+ representation, and was unapologetic about the nuances of gay culture in Sydney. It broached serious topics like AIDS, discrimination, and the youth/looks obsessed culture prominent in the club scene. It was witty and satirical and not afraid to poke fun at itself. ‘The Indignities’ by comparison has the tone of some whiny old queen who can’t understand why he isn’t the centre of attention anymore. Totally not cute. Like the protagonist, this book has not aged well.
Genre: YA, Thriller, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTIA+
No. of pages: 346
High schooler Matt’s father is rich, powerful, and seemingly untouchable—a criminal with high hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps. Matt’s older brother Luke seems poised to do just that, with a bevy of hot girls in tow. But Matt has other ambitions—and attractions.
And attraction sometimes doesn’t allow for good judgement. Matt wouldn’t have guessed that when he makes a new friend, one who is also carrying a secret. The boys’ connection turns romantic, a first for both. Now Matt must decide if he can ever do the impossible and come clean about who he really is, and who he is meant to love.
‘The Friend Scheme’ brought all the angst and coming out vibes alive on the page. A mob family and a masculine and toxic environment don’t make the best place when Matt starts having feelings for another boy. But Matt is used to keeping secrets – but is it time to start revealing truths in order to get close to Jason… it’s a big decision and Matt with have to dig deep to find the courage if he wants to find love.
There was something about this though that kept me from being fully absorbed into the story; and it took me a while afterwards reflecting on the book to pinpoint what it was… Matt is a member of a criminal family, and this involves murder, a protection racket, and a war with competing family over controlling parts of the city (who deal in drugs). It was how Matt seems to have morals and does not want to be a part of this lifestyle, and yet the hard questions about the consequences, beliefs and integrity of these criminal actions aren’t really addressed. They are mostly in the background or ignored in favour of Matt dealing with his friendships. I felt Matt was so isolated from the reality of his families actions, from the real world that it kept something inside me squirming. I guess I was indignant and wanted him to scream from the rooftops about all the injustice. That by his actions he is complicit in all the corruption and illegal activity.
You can say that he is effectively innocent, and that he doesn’t know any different having grown up in that environment, but I just feel his character is painted in a way that is contra to that life. He was too passive. And in that vein ‘The Friend Scheme’ felt like it was a bit of a fantasy scenario for the sake of the romance.
Even love interest Jason is some too-perfect hunky guy that is chasing after Matt.
All of this does bring up some important themes about organised crime and how Matt is practically held hostage through loyalty, and maybe even the threat of death. There is also a lot of toxic masculinity woven into the family culture that prevented me from really getting into ‘The Friend Scheme,’ half the time I wanted to reach into the book and either throttle or swing an uppercut at the ignorant cast.
All of these things felt a bit triggering about the type of discrimination gay youth have faced.
There is some lovely character development for Matt, but as I mentioned, his role felt passive; this story was so focused on the romance that I felt like his character was done a bit of a disservice. He could have been given a greater opportunity for growth, forming stronger ideals in the face of the extreme challenges his family posed. Plus there was a bit of that privileged white man thing going on – and that privilege, the money they have, was all blackmailed from hard-working family businesses. It’s not easy to deduce that ‘The Friend Scheme’ really had me standing on the soapbox over so many injustices and ignored issues.
I will say that Cale Dietrich has such an endearing writing style, it shows vulnerability and really drags out the feels for the protagonist. I had several moments where my eyes filled with water or I got pins and needles. There are some great little plot twists that kept me engaged too. They weren’t completely a surprise, but definitely a delight.
I was a little conflicted about the attitude of sex around our protagonist. I like how it is sex-positive and safe in nature, but it didn’t feel like it was coming from a built up place of love and affection; more a casual lusty encounter – which for first times, and the angst that was built up didn’t quite ring true for me. Especially for such a romance-centric storyline.
This was a fun read, I would have liked to seen Cale Dietrich tackle some of the heavier issues presented in the narrative through Matts eyes, but other than that it reads like a cute wish-fulfilment scenario that I would happily recommend.