Book Review: XOXO

This is the first time I’ve read a K-Pop romance and I absolutely loved it? XOXO by Axie Oh is an adorable YA romance with music and dance at the centre – right up my street. I was mostly drawn to the beautiful cover art, which is also printed on the naked hardcover; amazing. But the characters and plot drew me in and had my heart from start to finish. It was cool to be drawn into the world of young K-Pop stars and getting the perspective on it from a Korean American girl in Seoul for the first time.

Star rating: 5 stars

Jenny Go is a young cellist with big music conservatory ambitions. When her grandmother falls ill, Jenny and her Mom move to Seoul for a few months to look after her before and after surgery, with Jenny enrolling in a Seoul performing arts academy, which is also home to the next generation of K-Pop idols. And the twist? Jenny met one of them back in L.A. before she knew she was moving to Seoul, and it’s risky for his career for them to be seen together in a romantic way.

I really enjoyed this book! I liked all of the characters, loved how Jenny really came out of her shell after making new friends at her new school, including her roommate Sori. Jenny and Sori’s friendship is one of my favourite elements of the book, so adorable. The romance is cute, as Jenny and Jaewoo get to know each other better and learn that they can’t stay away from each other despite the risks to Jaewoo and his band XOXO. I really liked how the band members got a long so well despite being put together, they really had each other’s backs and each one had a role to play in the group.

The book focuses on Jenny learning to have more fun and life experiences which her Uncle reckons will give her music a spark. I liked that she made friends even though she was in a new country, and loved with her whole heart. It was good to see her meet her grandmother, and develop her relationship with her mother after gaining some new perspectives.

Overall XOXO is a great, light read that ties together really well. I loved every bit of it, and appreciated the lack of drama. You don’t even have to know anything about K-Pop to enjoy this book – just immerse yourself in the amazing setting and food descriptions and have fun on the journey.

Book Review: The Starless Sea

My friends were reading this, some for the second time and some for the first. I decided to join in with a re-read of a book that blew my mind last November. A second read hit differently – it was just as good, just as unique, but some of the things I missed the first time became super clear. I am sure a third read will reveal even more! Now I wasn’t so focused on what was happening, I noticed the little details that make this such rich storytelling.

Star rating: 5 stars

The Starless Sea is a book of stories within stories – the short stories are all somehow related to the main story which can take a bit of figuring out. Remembering what the small stories are about helps! It is one of the most bizarre things I have ever read, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best. Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the star of the show – he’s a college-aged protagonist, studying some sort of Game Design as a post-graduate in Vermont. He is introverted, doesn’t have many friends, but appears confident when he knows what he’s talking about. Zachary, never Zach, is absolutely the kind of character that I can really get behind. He is curious, gentle, and often sarcastic. I love a character with a great sense of humour.

There are several other characters – Dorian, Kat, Mirabel and the Keeper. It doesn’t feel like there are good and bad characters – they all have drivers and things that motivate them that feel legitimate. I really enjoyed the extracts of Kat’s diary and the dynamic between Zachary and Dorian.

The descriptions are lyrical and the sentences have a nice rhythm, I can imagine it is exceptional when read aloud. Despite the detail, it never feels like a chore to read.

With the chaos of the plot, I was really worried that the ending wouldn’t live up to the rest of the book. I shouldn’t have been! It is bittersweet, though wrapped up enough to satisfy, but definitely leaves room for more which I definitely wouldn’t say no to! Erin Morgenstern did a fantastic job and if you love dreamy, weird and wonderful books then this is not one to miss.

This is one of my friend Meaghan’s favourite books – you can check out their review at Paragraphs and Pages.

Have you read The Starless Sea? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Meat Market

It’s time to review my favourite contemporary YA novel of all time for this blog. Meat Market by Juno Dawson is a stunning story with a protagonist that as an adult I wanted to protect with everything I have. I don’t think I’ve ever cared about a character in this way before, it honestly hurt so much to read her story because it felt so real. It is brutal, emotive and honest, feels so faithful to London, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Jana Novak is the child of immigrants from war in the Balkans (Serbia to be exact). They’re not devastatingly poor but they do struggle for money on occasion. Jana is tall and androgynous looking, which has resulted in frequent bullying from the other kids at school. But one day, on a trip to a theme park, she is scouted by a modelling agency which changes her life forever.

Entering the world of modelling is a shock to the system for Jana. She has to learn to walk in heels, work the catwalk and figure out what the hell she’s supposed to do at photo-shoots, all whilst taking a full load of A-levels as she begins Sixth Form. It’s not all glamour – Jana never had to worry about what she chooses to eat before, but now she’s always being watched. Not to mention the petty drama from her classmates.

As Jana becomes a worldwide star, her life is anything but glamorous. She is put up in dodgy modelling apartments across the world that are barely fit to live in, sharing with other girls who are all exhausted from demanding schedules. Castings are uncomfortable, sometimes including hours of waiting with nowhere to sit. Jana’s life is a merry-go-round of flights, shoots, catwalks, and the odd stop at home to catch up with her boyfriend Ferdy. But the money is great, and every time she feels like she wants to quit she thinks of her family, and decides to keep going.

Naturally, her mental health deteriorates, particularly after a harrowing event in which she is sexually harassed by a famous photographer. Her modelling agency is full of irresponsible adults who do nothing for the protection well-being of the models, and even send them unaccompanied to known sex offenders. Xanax helps but turns the world to a foggy, repetitive mess.

Despite the darkness, there are moments of light. There is so much empowerment of women and girls, Ferdy is an incredible boyfriend, and Jana’s friend Sabah is so supportive.

Never have I felt so protective of a character before. Jana is so innocent and caring, and it hurt so much to see her go from dealing with petty stuff from people at school to every nasty thing the modelling world threw at her.

Anyway, I can’t give this book enough praise. It’s conversational style makes it so easy to fly through which is great given how addictive the plot is. The ending is powerful and fitting. Every chapter has a purpose. Juno Dawson has created a masterpiece, and I will always recommend it. Do look out for the trigger warnings: eating disorders, sexual assault, drug use, body shaming.

I don’t know anyone else who has read this book so please comment if you have. Did you like it? Have you read any other books by Juno Dawson? Let me know!