ARC Mini Reviews: Contemporary Fiction

Thank you to the publishers Walker Books and Alma Books who have been kind enough to provide me with wonderful review copies lately. I enjoyed each and every one of these!

Truth or Dare


BLURB: How far is too far when it comes to the people you love? 
Claire Casey hates being the centre of attention. But if it means getting Sef Malik to notice her, it’s a risk she’s happy to take.
Sef is prepared to do anything to help his recently disabled brother. But this means putting Claire’s love – and life – on the line. Because when you’re willing to risk everything, what is there left to lose?

What I liked

Non Pratt’s latest novel Truth or Dare is right on trend. It’s sharp and current with its portrayal of social media, and it ticks a lot of diversity boxes including LGBT, Neurodisability and subtle nudges and observations of passive racism. (Not that these things should be seen as tick boxes because I am looking forward to the day where we don’t have to point them out like a rarity!)

Truth or Dare features Pratt’s trademark dual narrative style, and we follow Sef, whose brother is recently disabled due to an accident, and Claire, who volunteers to help Sef make Youtube videos to raise money for Kam’s care. They take on the secret alter-ego’s of Truth Girl and Dare Boy, pushing themselves to do more jaw-dropping stunts to amp up the donations. Unlike Pratt’s usual books that flick between the two characters perspectives, in this novel, the first half of the book is Claire, while the second half is Sef.

As usual, when it comes to this author I found myself racing through the story, desperate to know what really happened around the mysterious circumstances of Kam’s accident. I also loved that it really delved into Vlogging culture, and how pressurizing it can become when you’re always trying to outdo yourself with your next video, and how you constantly have to provide new content or get left behind. As a blogger, I could definitely relate!

What I didn't like 2

I have to admit, I really missed Pratt’s normal narrative format that switches character perspectives constantly, sometimes even on the same page. While having the first half of the story Claire, and the second half Sef was still interesting, I missed the rich texture of seeing how the characters reacted to events differently in real time which I found so fascinating in Pratt’s previous books Trouble and Remix. The other issue I had was that I found Sef’s perspective so much more interesting and complex. I mean, that guy was a real jerk, but his brain was interesting. SO. MUCH. TURMOIL. In contrast, Claire’s story seemed much more linear and I kinda wanted to shake her for having fluffy bunny feelings for a guy who in my opinion, did not deserve them!

My overall rating for Truth or Dare is 3 stars. On Sef’s story, this novel would have been a 4, but Claire brought it down a star.

Overall Impression: 3/5 
Writing Style 5/5 | Originality 4/5 | Entertainment 3/5 | Character Development 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes



Mind the Gap Phil Earle   

BLURB: When Mikey’s dad died, something in Mikey died too. He loved his old man and he never stopped dreaming that one day his dad would land the role of a lifetime, prove them all wrong, and rock back up to the estate in the flashiest car anyone had ever seen. Now there’s just numbness, and not caring, and really, really stupid decisions. He says the worst of it is that he can’t even remember his dad’s voice any more. Eventually Mikey’s best mate can’t bear it any more, and so he sets out to give Mikey the memories – and his dad’s voice – back.

What I liked

Wow, this was such a sweet book; it was like a little shot of awesome (a shot of orange juice of course guys, this is a kids book. Honestly!) Mind the Gap was inspired by a true story the author came across about the Embankment station on the London Underground. Apparently, this station was last to use the original iconically recorded  Mind the Gap announcement. The man’s widowed wife was said to visit the station every day just to hear her husband’s voice. Mikey’s fictional story follows a very similar yellowey-green line (pardon the pun).

Mind the Gap see’s Mikey and his friend wandering the streets of London getting into all sorts of trouble searching for the last traces of Mikey’s father. Mikey’s grief is throbbing and so tough to read, especially as he has so many unresolved issues about his dad, who often popped in and out of his life when convenient, always bragging about his next big acting job. Luckily, Mikey has an amazing best friend to fiercely fight his corner when he is unable to do so for himself, which ultimately makes this story all about togetherness and hope for the future.What I didn't like 2

The only thing I can criticise this book for is that I wish it were longer than its 99 pages!! Seriously, I was getting so into Mikey’s story, that I wanted to delve deeper and see how he would continue to cope and assimilate with the burden of losing his Dad.

Of course, the entire point of this novel is that it is extremely short and accessible for reluctant or dyslexic readers, so I guess I will have to glumly accept that I can’t always get what I want… but just in case Phil Earle is reading this… I wouldn’t be upset if you came up with a concept for book 2!

Overall Impression: 4/5 
Writing Style 4/5 | Originality 5/5 | Entertainment 4/5 | Character Development 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes



BLURB:The South in Winter Peter Benson Matthew Baxter was almost there. Almost a writer, almost a lover, almost a traveler. He wrote for the Tread Lightly range of travel guides, he loved his boss and he was about to catch a plane to the south.
His job was to give an out-of-season slant to the Italian guide, and he was ready. Almost. For everything wasn’t exactly as it should have been. In fact, nothing was exactly as it should have been. Especially Matthew Baxter.
Peter Benson’s new novel is a story of (almost) unrequited love and a meditation on the possibility of redemption. It’s also a tour of southern Italy, and aims to prove that although some people say “Never go back,” some people don’t know what they’re talking about.
What I liked


So this was my first Peter Benson novel, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I picked it up 80% due to the southern Italy setting. Italy is one of my favourite places to explore and something about seeing the place in winter from the safety of my own bedroom really appealed. I’m so glad that I took a chance on a new author and something a little more out of my comfort zone because I really enjoyed this novel!

Matthew is a 48 year-old travel writer in a world that’s going digital, he’s a wannabe fiction writer with a multitude of story ideas never put to paper, not to mention he likes to drink too much, sometimes likes to steals things, and is still desperately in love with his ex (who also now happens to be his boss). It’s safe to say, good old Matthew is having a bit of an existential crisis.

Matthew is not exactly a likable character, but he is interesting. He has desperate bouts of melancholy, he’s innately cynical, yet at the same time as he’s poking fun at people, he also has a deep-seated desire to have what they do. He’s also prone to self-sabotage and makes the wrong decision 99% of the time. Normally I would be rolling my eyes at a privileged white male character moaning about his perfectly good life, but something about Peter Benson’s writing totally sold me. His style is fresh, crisp and cutting, steeped in sarcasm and a wicked sense of humor. His descriptions of Italy had me drooling desperate to catch the next plane. It also made me want to eat Italian food, sip wine and savour limoncello, as the protagonist went out to eat at restaurants at the end of nearly every chapter. YUM.What I didn't like 2

The one issue I had with The South in Winter is that it was rather repetitive. Matthew would visit a new Italian town, write a description to put towards his travel guide, go for a meal at a restaurant and drink too much and wander drunkenly home pining over his ex, which would inevitably end up in a drunken phone call to her and a passive-aggressive fight. Considering this was the format for the entire novel, when I think about it logically I’m really not sure why I enjoyed it so much?! There are no twists or turns, no shocking reveals, even the ending just sort of tails off. When you break it down logically, this novel should be formulaic and boring, which I guess just shows how powerful good writing and a fascinating character can be! I kind of wish I could transplant Peter Benson’s writing into a more gripping story because wow, that would be explosive.

Overall Impression: 4/5 
Writing Style 5/5 | Originality 3/5 | Entertainment 4/5 | Character Development 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes



Thanks for reading. 🙂

4 thoughts on “ARC Mini Reviews: Contemporary Fiction

  1. I’ve seen these three in the school library, Mind the Gap looks interesting!

    I’m surprised they were ARC’s…it seems like they’ve been in the library for a while, but maybe schools get them before a general release?

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