Posted in review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Exile – S.M.Wilson

“That was the thing about this place. Blink. And you missed it. Blink. And you could be dead.”

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Blurb: “After surviving on Piloria once, Storm and Lincoln are the obvious candidates to return to the dinosaur continent to test the new virus that should clear the way for human settlement. But they have their own priorities – finding a cure for the plague that’s sweeping Earthasia, and keeping themselves alive.”

I picked up The Extinction Trials on a whim after seeing a mixture of the buzz online and that it was pitched as “The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park.” It only took a couple of pages for me to fall completely in love and try shoving it into the faces of anyone who would care to listen. It felt new, original and filled my need for dinosaurs eating people; yes, you read that last part right. My review of the first book can be found here.

The Extinction Trials:Exile shows straight off how history is destined to keep repeating itself. When barely any of the participants return from the dinosaur continent, Piloria, the government is still very much set on its plans to get rid of the dinosaurs by administering a virus to their water supply. A good majority of this book is set on Earthasia with both Lincoln and Storm being promoted to roles within Parliament. It can feel like a bit of a lull at times and I found myself just wanting to get to the dinosaurs, but it was important to flesh out the human continent and give a horrid reminder of just how bad the conditions are. A lot of the seemingly minor bits of information littered at the reader’s feet become quite important later on.

I love the two protagonists, Lincoln and Storm, in the sense that they really don’t like each other. They have returned home after surviving dinosaur attacks and it isn’t until they are forced back onto the island together that the duo is actually reunited; quite simply, they have no reason to. I can’t quite place it but this just made their “relationship” feel more real because they both want extremely different things and had nothing really tying them to each other. Lincoln cares only about saving his sister in whatever way he can, while Storm can’t stop thinking about the idealistic nature of Piloria. Storm gets to spend more time with her father, Reban, and it was interesting to actually see his side of things as he was pitched more so as the villain in the previous book. This mix of narratives did a wonderful job of giving a more rounded view of the important factors at play.

I also liked seeing Blaine again, the stipulator left behind by the government and seeing how he has continued to adapt to his new surroundings with very little help for Piloria. It fuelled that seed growing in Storm’s mind about the possibility of living alongside the dinosaurs without human interference, and showed just how adaptable humans can be.

Once again, S.M.Wilson does a fantastic job of building the tension when the characters, along with some new faces, finally land on the dinosaur continent. The descriptions were so lush and vibrant that I could picture it so clearly while venturing through the narrative. There were many moments when I held my breath; waiting in anticipation for a dinosaur to jump out of the bushes at the last minute.

Another brilliant addition to the series and I simply cannot wait for the next one!

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook Of The Month | The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo is a book that I’ve heard a lot about. Towards the end of 2018, it popped up on everyone’s favourite lists for the year, and I’ve not seen a single bad thing about it. Sadly, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve avoided it: hyped books have a tendency of letting me down. It wasn’t until fellow blogger Sofia kept insisting that I give it a go that I finally cracked.

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The story is centered around Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo who has decided to come out of hiding to write a book about her life with the help of Monique, a magazine reporter. Evelyn is famous of her many film roles but also the absurd number of husbands she’s garnered along her journey. Monique, on the other hand, is the epitome of the writer stuck in a dead-end job looking for something to put her on the map and this proposition seems like it could do just that. The book is split into three narratives: Monique’s which covers her life, the events at work (where they currently believe Evelyn will be doing a cover shoot with them – however this is not the case), the “autobiographical” chapters of Evelyn’s stories that act as part of the book she’s working on, and then the gossip columns that follow alongside the past and present of Evelyn’s life.

Quite simply, I am in love with this book. The whole world view of Evelyn reminds me so much of The Great Gatsby and all the rumours that circulate about the mysterious Jay Gatsby. The audiobook has multiple narrators who are all quite simply fantastic. It’s so easy to drop into this world and feel like I’m listening to real people talking about their lives. The narrator for Evelyn has me completely hooked to the point where I actually forget that I’m not listening to a non-fiction book. I’m completely invested in learning about the history of the character.

I didn’t know that this book was gay. It’s several hours into the audiobook before it’s even hinted that Evelyn has an interest in women; and subsequently comes out as bisexual to Monique in their conversation. It’s a shame this hasn’t been pushed more in the promotion or hinted on the blurb because I know a few readers who also weren’t aware of this prior to reading the book.

At the time of writing this post, I am 45& into the audiobook and I just can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? What did you think?

What audiobooks are you listening to at the moment?

Posted in Non-Fiction

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“So far in my life I have been a lawyer, a vice president at a hospital, and the director of a non-profit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman (the only African-American) in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn up by grief, and until recently I was First Lady of the United States of America.”

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Blurb: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”

Unless you’ve been living under rock which has been buried several feet underground, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Obama. For eight years she was First Lady of The United States of America, but as a non-American I only saw bits and pieces of what she used her position to create. So it’s pretty helpful that she decided to write a book all about her life! I always have to listen to non-fiction on Audiobook because I really struggle to read these kind of books otherwise; it also really helps hearing the individual tell their own story and Michelle Obama is really soothing to listen to.

Becoming is split into three sections: “Becoming Me” which lays down her roots and detail the significant moments from her growing years such as her piano teacher and the application advisor at Princeton who told her she didn’t stand a chance of getting in. She talks about the moment when she started to be treated differently due to the colour of her skin along with seemingly small events that she didn’t realise the weight of until she looked back on them with an adult perspective. The next section, “Becoming Us” details how Michelle met Barack Obama, their blossoming relationship, marriage and the family they began to make. The final section details the massive shift in the life of her family when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. Overall, the book provides the stark reminder that Michelle Obama is just human; a woman trying to raise her child with the best values possible while having to cope with being on the world’s stage during two presidential terms.

I loved reading about the fire that Michelle has in her belly. Everything she does is to fiercely protect her family and her own reputation. She likes to stand on her own feet, not being tied down by her links to other people. She works hard to create new programmes for children and trying to improve health because she can’t bear to sit still doing nothing for eight possible years. She talks candidly about experiencing miscarriage and career sacrifices she makes for her children.

As a non-American, it was really fascinating to learn more about how a presidential run works, voting, campaigning and what happens when a new president enters the White House and what the role of a First Lady actually entails. The most surprising thing to learn from Michelle’s story is actually how much she hates politics. She’s incredibly open about her reservations when Barack started to become interested in politics and how she felt self-conscious when he eventually got into office. Sorry to those really hoping she will, but Michelle shuts down any possibility of herself running for presidency – she really does hate politics.

Listening to the audiobook, there’s something so soothing about Michelle’s voice and the way she talks so eloquently and always has food for thought is incredible. I feel like I’ve walked away from this book with a new outlook on life.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and break dancing. It’s my story.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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Posted in Charlotte Writes Things, Uncategorized

Charlotte Writes Things | Planner vs Pantser

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck

 

20190119_132210It’s a common topic discussed and one that, in fact, I was asked to write about by fellow reviewer Anna. Writers are often asked if they are a “planner or pantser.” Simply put, do you plan or go in with no plan? When I tried to think of what other writers do, I remembered when I went to an event for The Iron Trial with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and they talked about this very subject. Cassandra Clare has to plan every single detail down to when a character blinks, whereas Holly Black likes to go in with no plan whatsoever because she likes surprises. Naturally, you can imagine this made their partnership on the series a tad difficult.

I have to admit that I’m both a pantser and planner in equal measures. I have the initial concept in mind, along with characters and some understanding of location. When it comes to writing a chapter or scene, I like to have a framework – some idea of where I’m walking – but I never fully know what’s going to happen. I always leave room for things to happen naturally and so that the characters are able to think for themselves. It’s in these moments of no planning where new locations sprout, new characters join the story, and old characters have died. Sometimes I start writing and don’t even have the ending figured out.

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I’m hoping to do a whole seperate post about how exactly I plan a new project. But for now I pose the questions to you:

Are you a planner or a pantser?
Do you have anything you need to do before starting a new project?

Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, thriller, young adult

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

“You really think someone killed him?

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Blurb:”Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town. He is also unexpectedly dead. Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?”

[AD – Gifted]

Trigger Warnings: Talks of death, depictions of death, emotional and physical abuse.

I’ve followed Savannah with her poetry for a long time so when she announced that she was writing a book, I had mentally signed up for it and waited patiently to finally get the lyrical brilliance from her in a new format.

Rather fitting to her previous work, the central themes of The Truth About Keeping Secrets are quite dark. The protagonist, Sydney, is reeling from the unexpected loss of her father and has taken to devoting most of her time to thinking about death, along with scrolling endlessly through a website called TOD which posts surveillance footage of real life deaths. Her father was a renowned therapist in the town of Pleasant Hills and Sydney also struggles with the fact that people out there had a relationship with a dad in a way that she never did; that he mattered and existed to other people, that he wasn’t solely hers. It’s incredibly easy to feel empathy for this character, especially when the mysterious threatening text messages begin and none of the adults around her take them seriously. She completely regresses into herself until she meets June.

I had a lot of problems with June because for a big portion of the book she trends the edges of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope. Sydney is so fascinated with her and becomes obsessed to the point where she even says that her life could be boiled down to the 20 minutes a day she spent driving to and from school with June. While the big lulling middle of the book focuses so much on establishing their relationship, you learn nothing about her until the climatic end of the books. When the details did arise, they added so much to her character and completely changed my perspective and I just wish they hadn’t been confined to the last few pages of the book. Especially as Sydney and June both express a romantic interest in each other.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets is clearly very well planned and the details that come to light at the big climax left me reeling. However, because so much of the book is focused on Sydney’s obsession with June, there’s a massive lull between the first couple of text messages, the subsequent ones, and the events that ramp up at the end. For this reason, when that big turning point comes it feels like the story has gone from 0-100 because it becomes so dramatic so quick and there wasn’t that natural incline. This really shook my enjoyment of the book because it’s been marketed as a YA Thriller but for the most part it’s not particularly thrilling.

I loved the twist and turns but I just wish there had been more of them.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, Uncategorized

Audiobook Of The Month | The Humans

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After getting into Matt Haig’s books last year, and one of them making it onto my list of favourites for 2018, I’ve decided that I really want to read more of his back catalogue so when I was scrolling through audible desperately trying to find my first listen of 2019, I came across The Humans. 

The Humans is about an alien who comes to earth and takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. The unnamed narrator has been sent to stop the humans discovering the answers to a mathematical theory. Initially, this summary didn’t really interest me, but I adored the writing style in How To Stop Time so I took a tiny leap out of my comfort zone and decided to give The Humans a go.

A lot of my pure enjoyment from this audiobook so far comes from the narrator, Mark Meadows. He is simply fantastic. The delivery of the lines and the tonal usage really makes the funny and witty moments land perfectly and I’ve found myself laughing out loud many a time at my desk during a work day. Of course, part of this falls to the clever nature of the narrative constructed by Matt Haig. The narrator talks about walking around naked and being confused about why the police have been called on him, not understanding why on earth someone would have a wife, and learning the human language through magazines such as Cosmopolitan.

It’s a short audiobook – standing at just over 8 hours- so I’m wondering where exactly the story is going to end up given the length.

At the time of writing this I am 29% into the audiobook and loving every minute of it.

What audiobooks are you listening to this month?

What were your favourites of 2018?

Posted in Historical Fiction, review, Uncategorized

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

“What a group we were. A pregnant girl in love, a kindly shoemaker, an orphan boy, a blind girl and a giantess who complained that everyone was in her way when she herself took up the most room. And me, a lonely girl who missed her family and begged for a second chance.”

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Blurb: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.”

Historial fiction is not a genre I actively reach for. In fact, when I think about others I’ve read, the only one that springs to mind is The Book Thief. But like the way I find most of my books, it’s talked about a lot in the community. So when I came across in on the shelf at my library, I scooped it up and went on my way.

I used to love learning about history when I was younger and it’s baffling that this is the first time I’ve heard about the Whilhelm Gustloff which is one of the worst wartime ship disasters. It’s total loss is greater than the Titanic and Lusitana tragedies combined. The event seems to have become a minor footnote amongst everything else that took place during World War II so I’m glad this book exists as a way to counteract that.

Salt To The Sea is told through four different perspectives: Florian who is fleeing from his dark deeds, Joana who is a nurse, Emilia who is a young pregnant girl, and Alfred who is a German solider. Each of these points of view worked perfectly in showing the realities of war and showcasing different stories of civilians just trying to make it out alive. When it comes to stories of war, I feel like it’s too easy to forget the innocent people trapped in the middle. Out of the four characters the reader follows directly, Alfred was the most interesting as he was working for Hitler. He was determined to prove his worth, earn a medal, and genuinely believed that he was on the right side of history.

The book is incredibly brutal. When the plot reaches its climax there is no escape from the death and graphic descriptions of people jumping from the ship in a desperate attempt to survive, no way to get past the images of bodies floating in water. But to downplay those elements would do this book, and history, a massive disservice. While the characters themselves are fictionalised and inspired by Ruta sepetys research, knowing that this tragedy really happened was almost impossible to fathom.

The only real grip I had with this book is the chapters. The reader is following each character for three pages at most before another one steps up which makes it really hard to care entirely for the characters or really get a full sense of who they are.

Salt To The Sea is heart wrenching but shines a light on an important, forgotten part of history.

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Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

A Cover Is Not The Book

Recently, I went to see Mary Poppins Returns in the cinema and I absolutely loved every single second of it. But among all the familiarity, the contrast of colours and the pure magic weaved into its story, one song in particular stuck out to me.

The song is called “A Cover Is Not The Book” and tackles the topic of how really you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover because then you’ll be surprised and find that your preconceptions were actually quite wrong. It got me thinking about some books I’ve come across where I wasn’t that enamored with the cover but, whether through knowledge of the author or hearing many good things, I decided to continue on and see what happens.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of books where I hated the covers, but really loved the story:

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

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Did you really think this would be the year where I didn’t mention The Great Gatsby at any given opportunity? One of my favourite books of all time but has a truly appalling original cover. Of course, like with many classics, there are many different editions out there but I chose to stick with the original as this was the cover of the copy I read. It was purely because of the 2013 adaption that I picked this book up so that I could experience the story for myself. Little did I know that the glitz and glamour of 1920’s parties, luscious prose and complex, intoxicating characters would have me coming back for many a reread.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare 

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I promise that this list isn’t going to include all my favourite books! Another book that I picked up because of an upcoming film adaptation, City of Bones was a game changer for me.  After devouring this book and its subsequent partners, I took a shift in my reading life to YA fantasy and also realised it was the kind of stuff that I wanted to write more of. A tale packed full of half angel- half human individuals battling demons in a world of warlocks, vampires and werewolves. There sure is something for everyone.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea made it onto my list of favourite books for last year. It follows a Muslim teenager called Shirin as she tackles school and wider society a year on from the events of 9/11. She is an incredible well-rounded character with so many layers to her than what those see around her, and I actually really liked the romance in it. The cover itself, however, I just found a bit bland. I get the effect of showing the reflection in water but I feel that it’s just too simplistic.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

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Victoria Schwab is an auto-buy author for me so most of the time I pick up her books not really knowing that much about them. City of Ghosts is a prime example of the US cover being infinitely better than the UK cover. I just really don’t like the way the red and black blend together and it makes it actually hurt my eyes to look at. The story, however, is fantastic. It’s about a girl who can see ghosts and sometimes step into the veil to the other side. It will appeal greatly to fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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Again, another one where I feel that the cover is a bit too simple. But the story is outstanding, and turned into an equally amazing film adaptation. It’s about a boy called August with a facial disfigurement who starts his first year in public school after being home schooled. It’s multiple perspective which works really well to see into the minds of other characters and how they view August. It’s a tearjerker, so make sure you have tissues handy.

So that’s my list! What are some books that you loved but didn’t like the cover?

Alternatively, what are some of your favourite book covers?

 

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

“I had already written about my mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive. But the question now was not: why should I stay alive? The question this time was a broader one: how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”

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Trigger warning: talks of suicide

My first exposure to Matt Haig was when one of his tweets about anxiety appeared on My Twitter timeline. I followed him and have done ever since but it’s only recently that I started to delve into his books.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is the second of haig’s books that I have picked up but it is the first non-fiction of his. In this book, Matt Haig talks candidly about his panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and suicide attempt. While the he bounces around other topics, these in particular can be quite difficult to read so if you feel you may be triggered, take this book at your own pace.

He focuses a lot on how the modern day world seems to demand more from us and that, as a result, our lives have become cluttered and It’s far too easy to have more things to worry about; especially as the development of technology allows us to stay plugged in to the wider world.

I found it very comforting to read about his struggles with anxiety as it reinforced the knowledge that I am not alone in my own anxiety disorder. He offers lots of tips on how to control negative thoughts and worries in a “nervous planet” and offers metaphors of what he feels like to have this illness which just resonated so well and have given me a way to explain to others exactly what it feels like to have my mind.

He also touches on the pressure of men in society from body image to emotional connection to suicide statistics. It was important to see this highlight as to not be “men too” but… well men too.

Notes On A Nervous Planet has provided lots of food for thought and techniques to try for focusing on what I can control and not getting stressed out over the things I can’t.

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