Book Review: How it All Blew Up

By Arvin Ahmadi

There are no literal explosions in this book.

I was given an advance review copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

I’ve been reading, and enjoying the hell out of, a bunch of books aimed at young gay folk in recent months. From L C Rosen’s Camp and The Jack of Hearts (and other parts) to the quirky Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano, I’ve really enjoyed reading these light, romantic, sometimes sexy, stories about people coming to terms with their identity, suffering and creating drama, and sometimes finding love.

This is the first one I’ve read with an Iranian protagonist, which adds an extra level of drama and pathos to the proceedings.

Amir is a closeted eighteen-year-old on the brink of graduating from high school when something threatens to out him to his parents, which he’s sure is going to be a disaster. In a panic and with two thousand dollars in his pocket, he flees to Rome to wait for everything to blow over.

Away from home and emboldened to do things he’d never do there, he meets a collection of delightfully queer characters who bring a great deal of life and light to the novel. Amir’s adorable and highly relatable, and his tribulations and drama feel plausible even if more sensible decisions could have headed them off at the pass.

“How It All Blew Up” was a hugely enjoyable read, and I recommend it for anyone who’d like to get a taste of sun-soaked Rome while stuck in lockdown. Come for the travelogue, but stay for the adorkable protagonist and charming supporting cast.

Book Review – “When She Was Good”

by Michael Robotham

I was given an advance review copy of this book by Netgalley.com in exchange for a fair review.

After reading “Good Girl, Bad Girl” I was sure we’d be seeing more of Cyrus and Evie, and I was looking forward to unwrapping the mystery of who Evie is and how she came to be in the situation described in the first novel. After reading “When She Was Good” I’m looking forward to more stories about Evie because she deserves them on her own merits as a character.

Given the subject matter of the crimes described in this book–including family destruction and paedophile sex trafficking–this novel could have been a lurid mess. I’m glad to say that Robotham deftly manages to convey the seriousness and lasting impact of these crimes without dwelling on them in a crass way. I was also impressed that some of the people responsible for these crimes or who enabled them were portrayed as more than 2-dimensional monsters to safely be hated and reviled.

Conversely, the protagonists are flawed people who sometiems act badly or make relatable mistakes. There are no paragons of virtue here, jsut realistic people trying to do the best they can.

I’m not sure that Robotham has quite found a unique voice for Cyrus, yet. Most of his defining characteristics are external–like his tattoos–rather than represented through his dialogue or inner monologue. I also feel like he’s portrayed quite differently in his own two novels than he was when he appeared in “The Secrets She Keeps”–perhaps that’s due to Joe O’Laughlin being an unreliable narrator in that novel?

Evie is very much her own character, and I find her voice much more interesting than Cyrus’s. In a future novel it would be interesting to see her take the role of primary character with Cyrus in a supporting role.

To wrap up, “When She Was Good” is an engaging page-turner with fascinating characters and an interesting story. If you’ve enjoyed Robotham’s novels in the past you’re sure to enjoy this too–but be aware that this novel goes to some pretty bleak places.

If you haven’t read “Good Girl, Bad Girl”, please read that first. You’ll enjoy this book much more as a result.