Here for the Right Reasons (#1) by Jodi McAlister

Published: 6 July 2022 (print)/5 July 2022 (audio) Goodreads badge
Simon Schuster Australia/Simon Schuster Australia
Pages: 352/9 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Jaimee Taylor-Nielsen
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

When Cece James agrees to be cast as a ‘Juliet’ on the next season of the hit television show Marry Me, Juliet, it’s certainly not for the right reasons. She’s knee deep in debt and desperate for the associated paycheck. The last thing on her mind is the hunky ‘Romeo’ waiting for her at the end of the gravel driveway.

But Dylan Jayasinghe Mellor isn’t your usual fame-hungry TV star. An Olympic gold medallist with calloused hands, kind eyes and a propensity for panic attacks, it turns out he’s not here for the right reasons either. As spokesperson for a men’s mental health foundation, and the franchise’s first non-white male lead, Dylan’s got a charity to plug and something to prove.

When Cece gets eliminated on the first night, it seems like her and Dylan’s awkward first meeting will be their last conversation. But when the TV set is shut down unexpectedly, Cece and Dylan suddenly get a little more time together than they’d expected.

Will love bloom when the cameras stop rolling?

Reading these out of order was accidental so I knew what to expect but at the same time I was interested to see a whole new storyline because there is definitely two separate love stories happening despite being set during the same experience.

I loved that for the first part on the show we see the same conversations playing out because of course they’re all in the same group. It makes me wonder if I’d done it in another order I’d have the same surprises. The ending of book two was a nice reveal that you had an inkling about, whereas this doesn’t have the same feeling of mystery to it.

Without comparing the two books, I found I wasn’t invested in the Dylan/Cece relationship like I was before with the other story. I don’t know why, Dylan is perfectly nice, a little one dimensional at times, maybe too I couldn’t warm up to Cece as narrator. I found myself tuning out unintentionally which I felt bad about, but I couldn’t stay in the story. The conversations between Dylan and Cece didn’t grab me and it felt flat. It wasn’t that I need drama or anything, but I never became invested in their characters.

You definitely see the two falling in love as they become better friends, a great contrast against the backdrop of reality TV and fabricated relationships for personal gain and fame. You also see Cece’s growth as she builds in confidence and finds out what’s she’s looking for, but she never felt complete. With the knowledge of book two I actually enjoyed their relationship from an outsider’s perspective more fulfilling.

I felt I got more out of the story having read book two. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I did it the other way but there was something interesting about having extra knowledge that wasn’t being revealed in the story. Knowing the ending doesn’t ruin anything. You know where it’s going to go anyway, this is enjoying the journey and discovering the trials and tribulations on the way to the destination.

McAlister did a great job having two separate locations and so dual storylines could happen. We only see Cece’s side, and this focuses it more on a story with her inner turmoil than being about the dating show aspect alone. Often the television dating part is something happening in the background, something that we pop in and out of and connects to a wider story. That’s not to say we don’t see the drama of reality TV. There are extra characters to clash with but the situation McAlister has put Cece in means a lot of time is spent in her head which often felt repetitive.

I did like that both books give an unconventional conclusion; a romance that comes from unexpected places but still a place of sincerity and honesty. I can definitely sense there is a third book coming. If not there needs to be another story about Lilly, her social media brand and whatever is going on with that producer. I need answers because it’s mentioned often enough, and cryptically enough, in both books that it’s a failing if McAlister doesn’t offer any answers at all.

You can purchase Here for the Right Reasons via the following

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Can I Steal You for a Second (#2) by Jodi McAlister

Published: 5 April 2023 (print)/4 April 2023 (audio) Goodreads badge
Simon Schuster Australia/Simon Schuster Australia
Pages: 352/9 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Anthea Greco
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Mandie Mitchell will do anything to get over her toxic ex. Even sign up to the polarising reality dating show, Marry Me Juliet. But with her self-esteem in tatters, she’s not sure she’s brave enough to actually go on the show until she forms a friendship with Dylan Gilchrist at the auditions that gives her the push she needs. 

Dylan is everything Mandie is not – tough, strong, and totally unafraid to speak her mind. Unfortunately, she also looks set to win, as she soon becomes the clear favourite of the Romeo, who also happens to share the same name. It’s annoying, really, just how perfect the Dylans seem for each other… 

Mandie’s jealous. But it’s not because she wants to win the show. It’s because in her effort to get over her ex, she’s gone and fallen right back in love… with the wrong Dylan.  

This is a sequel in the Marry Me, Juliet series but it reads perfectly fine as a standalone or a first read if you’re going out of order. I didn’t realise when I picked it up and when I learnt there was a second book I assumed it was a companion book from a new perspective. That one is next on my list but if you’re starting here like I was there is nothing wrong with this being your introduction to these characters.

Being set during the pandemic was creative for the story, kept everyone together and added tension and stress to all of the characters. But on the other hand it did bring back some horror memories I wasn’t expecting but thankfully being in lockdown and raging deadly viruses are a minimal inclusion.

This is the second behind the scenes dating show book I’ve read and I enjoy seeing the manufacturing of shots and dialogue, but at the same time trying to maintain a true love element. Mandie’s love of the show allowed some creative imagined scenarios that sounded plausible and it added a fun element as she imagined how conversations would play out on TV.

McAlister has written characters that felt real, that had their own flaws and made mistakes. I loved that a lot of conflict was internal and character driven – Mandie’s own self-doubt being a key factor as well, but at the same time the external situation of being on a literal dating show added problems too.

There were great surprises and revelations which adds nice drama. There were big reveals and twists but they never felt like they came from nowhere. McAlister uses the characters incredibly well in driving the plot and with each character comes their own wants and needs, not to mention their flaws and misgivings which interact and clash with other people. You really get a sense of being on reality TV, locked up with strangers, vying for the same goal while still trying to appear happy and supportive.

Seeing Mandie’s emotional development through the book was great, she wasn’t a wallflower by any means before, but her blindness to her ex and their behaviour was clear, and I loved the slow reveal that made us realise it too. The positive influence of Dylan was real and never felt sanctimonious or sappy. It always felt like it came from genuine friendship and support. I loved the relationship between Mandie and Dylan and it was nice to see support between two people who were essentially in competition with one another.

I’m still not sure what the deal with Lily was, I had theories but I’m not sure if I was right so I’m going to keep my theories as fact until told otherwise. It felt like a small loose end to never clear that up, but as there is another book it might have more to say.

I’m definitely going to dive into the first book now and get more goss on the other contestants and the different side of the competition. McAlister has so many players to work with it will be great to see another perspective on the reality show and the different possibilities it can bring.

You can purchase Can I Steal You for a Second? via the following

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Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Published: 28th April 2020Goodreads badge
Allen & Unwin
Pages: 248
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

This is a fantastic book that gets into the mind of a neurodivergent teen and helps you understand how messy and complicated things can be and how everyday things can become incredibly complicated when you’re trying to behave like you’re “supposed” to.

Peta comes across on the page instantly and you can gauge who she is and her view on the world. Her friendships are important, she’s always trying to do the right thing and lives her life guided by the rules she has had drilled into her. Her exhaustion is evident but at the same time seeing her able to be herself and free from the rules is refreshing.

The story has a lot of sharp turns and rough edges but what I loved about that is this whole thing is being told through Peta’s eyes. She’s already told us her mind works differently so to have a story suddenly shift made sense. Logic works differently for Peta and while it can make the story take a dark or different turn it’s because situations change and life changes around Peta and she is constantly fighting to keep up. What makes sense to her won’t make sense to others but it’s always made clear just how much Peta is trying.

Whateley flips between the past and present as we see Peta’s journey and her experiences which helps us understand her and how she’s come to be where she is. I loved being inside Peta’s head because what she thinks she is doing isn’t always what others think she’s doing. Having the obvious miscommunication on the page only adds to forcing the reader to understand how the brain can interpret things differently for each person and you never know what anyone else is going through.

Seeing Peta come into her own is wonderful, finding herself and her place, as well as strengthening relationships is a great reward having seen her struggle as she recounts the issues she’s had in her past and in her present.

It’s a great achievement of Whateley to give Peta the right voice that speaks volumes about her experiences and I really hope it’s a book that provides an insight into the life of other neurodivergent people.

You can purchase Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal via the following

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Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Published: 4 October 2016 (print)/4th Aug 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 320/8 hrs and 1 min
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★  – 1 Star

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I’m sad this wasn’t a great Aussie YA because we usually do it so well. The Americanisation was disappointing when I learnt Sutherland was Australian and we missed out on a great Aussie story. I thought it was a bad American book but when I realised it was a bad book Americanised for the overseas market somehow that was somehow worse.

To get in our little slice of Australia there is a horrible stereotypical character which is absolutely painful. Sutherland should know how terrible this is for us to see the over exaggerated Australian in media and she should stop perpetuating it. It isn’t even that the narrator of the audiobook CANNOT do an Australian accent to save their life, but the dialogue Sutherland has written is so awful I kept having to pause it because it hurt to listen and I need it to stop. I couldn’t even stop and pick up my copy of the book because it’s not just the accent, I was not enjoying so much of this book and I could get through it faster listening to it.

I also find it hilarious that Murray who is so Australian it keeps being rammed down our throats, that his own parents would chastise Henry for using the word ‘bastard’. Like, give us some realism here please for the love of god.

I need to write or read a story where a teen’s favourite music is from the last 20 years and not something from before they were born. I get it’s probably easier to not date things or whatever, but if your goal is to create the Unique Girl and the Unique Boy then the fact it happens far too often diminishes that. There is another stereotype about how one kiss with a boy led Grace to come out as a lesbian and Henry’s favourite movie is Fight Club which is an interesting choice and given my opinions of Henry that doesn’t surprise me.

In a story where the word cripple is used, albeit by a character with a limp, to also have other characters wonder if it’s politically correct to mention someone has a limp was a curious contrast. It was a shock to hear the word cripple used and whether Sutherland justifies it by having a character describe themselves it still felt weird.

Grace wears typical guy clothes but it is stressed that she isn’t a tomboy. The role Grace plays is usually reserved for the boy in these types of YAs, the one who thinks the Deep Thoughts, but she is also playing her role as the Mysterious Girl that intrigues the boy who apparently has never seen another girl in his life. The self-reflection and acknowledgement of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t stop it from being an eye roll.

Henry is a romantic and a dreamer but he is also a fool. The way Henry talks about Grace is cringe worthy and he has already put her on a pedestal because she’s so intriguing. There isn’t anything remarkable about Grace, she is a normal, sarcastic, cynical teen and the book wasn’t doing anything to work against the tropes that has Henry wanting to “save her”. One redeeming factor is when Grace quizzes Henry on why he’s never had a girlfriend, one of the first reasons he gives is he’s seventeen and I will give Sutherland credit for that being a legitimate reason.

There were other issues as well. Betrayal of trust and stalking were twice used as a joke, and despite being published in 2016 there are two problematic jokes and gays and lesbians, plus one about AIDS being funny with no sense of irony that I can discern if that’s even an excuse.

It was basically for all this combined that I did not finish this book and left at the halfway mark. I’ve read reviews that the ending is good but aside from speed running the entire second half to have some reasonable ending isn’t too appealing. I’ve read other one star reviews that explain what’s wrong with this book a lot better than I can and it’s a comfort to know there’s others out there like me. I am contemplating watching the movie to see if it’s remotely tolerable and let me see the ending without need me to finish this godforsaken book but I don’t think I care enough about this book to watch the movie. If not a summary will suffice because I couldn’t keep going even to see if there was any redemption and I have a bad feeling the movie will take away any depth these characters had.

You can purchase Our Chemical Hearts via the following

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Preserving the Evidence (#2) by Kaz Delaney

Published: 23rd May 2022 Goodreads badge
Tule Publishing
Pages: 322
Format: Paperback
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Baker and amateur sleuth Rosie Hart finds herself embroiled in a brand new mystery in her new hometown of Airlie Falls. There’s a murder, an unidentified body, missing money, a late mayoral election challenge, a strange gathering of socialites at a mansion out of town, and strangers who aren’t who they claim to be. Oh – and an unknown woman who seemed to be being forced into a car against her will on the night of the town meeting. Rosie is sure they’re all connected, but the Sheriff isn’t convinced, and she’s afraid there’ll be more bodies to add to the tally if he doesn’t quickly unmask the murderer. Then all evidence suddenly points to her best friend, local newspaper owner and editor, Midge Moyal as being the murderer. Now Rosie knows she is the one who will have to prove Midge’s innocence.

Convinced the answers are at the mansion of the murdered man, Frederick Clausen, Rosie feels the only way to get them in to go undercover and pretend to be one of those bored socialites. It’s a brief stint and proves, if nothing else, that she’s no actress. But it wasn’t all in vain. Answers are starting to drop into place and suddenly Rosie realizes she’ll be lucky to get out of this one without more than a batch of burned Buried Treasure Cookies.

Note: I was provided with a copy for review.

In book two Rosie has settled into the town quite well and has established her baking prowess to the town’s favour. Her relationship with Jonas is going well and everything is wonderful until another murder hits the town and strange things are happening and the mysteries keep piling up.

This was a slower pace than the previous book, which was fine having established our characters and Rosie in the previous novel we could afford to unfurl this new mystery in a new way. With a few things happening the focus is split and the nature of the accusations allows for a slower pace in uncovering the culprit.

As the mystery hits home and starts to affect beloved characters it’s a fun development that adds intrigue as the reader you try and work out why people are being framed and to what end. Side characters introduced in the previous story feature again, including the Fab Four who are always a delight; and the pros and cons of a small town community is reinforced as the various events play out.

There is a solid recap of the previous book without it feeling forced for those who need a refresher or who picked the books up out of order. Delaney weaves it into the story smoothly so it never feels like it’s been inserted unnaturally into the story as a reminder.

There are multiple mysteries happening side by side – the mystery body, the murder, as well as the woman that Rosie keeps seeing but can never find. I liked the sleuthing Rosie did to uncover it, there is an air of amateur detective work but a lot of it is Rosie working it out for herself, or actively becoming involved to help save her friends. As a result there are a few run-ins with local law enforcement and blundering her way through undercover operations but that is part of this charm. Rosie is never trying to be a detective but she is trying to solve mysteries in her town, especially those affecting her friends.

Delaney has included an excellent collection of misleading information, red herrings, as well as twists and turns to keep you guessing. By the end of the story as you piece all the hints and clues together the ending comes as a satisfactory surprise and one that shows that cosy mysteries can have thrilling moments of danger, excitement, and suspense. I can’t wait to see what awaits Rosie in book three.

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