Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

“Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.”

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Blurb: “Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.”

Note: I am aware that as a white reviewer I have privilege and can’t fairly comment on the racial aspects of this book. Any Own Voices reviews are greatly appreciated and I will add them here.

In an attempt to “examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings”, Nic Stone began writing her debut after seeing the responses to the real-life shooting of unarmed African American teenagers.

Dear Martin follows high school senior Justyce McAllister who starts to question his racial identity after spending three hours in handcuffs for something he didn’t do. Classroom discussions and societal stereotypes come to the forefront of his attention more than they did before. When introduced to a gang, he identifies them as “the ones that make us look bad” and starts to worry more about everything he has to lose.

The book flits around different formats from more script based interactions for the classroom discussions, to prose for present happenings, to the letters. It’s the latter that really stood out to me. Letter writing to someone who won’t read the letters, especially an idol, can be so cathartic and it seems to work for the protagonist. While Justyce feels like he must remain silent in his daily life, especially when topics of equality come up, his letters to Martin Luther King are raw and unfiltered; it’s in these moments that it feels like the reader get the “real” Justyce.

The media fallout following another shooting by a police officer mimics what readers see too often in the real world and the predictability of questions thrown in front of Justyce are predictable and not surprising.

It was interesting to have the white male character, Jared, who starts off as someone who “doesn’t see colour” and truly be lives society is equal start to shift with the events of the book, to the point where he starts to acknowledge his privilege and own up to things he’s said and done in the past. Which is the kind of person I think all of those in a similar positon to him should be trying to do in our own lives.  Alongside this is a white girl called SJ who acknowledges her position from the start but speaks out on important issues and also helps lift up and push Justyce to the front as his voice is more important.

I found it thought-provoking that Dear Martin didn’t just focus on what it means to be a black boy in society, but how that transends into older age: The dad of Justyce’s best friend, Manny, talks about how he has a position of power at his current employment and yet his white colleagues still look down to him or refuse to answer his requests. All of which prompts the further questions in Justyce’s mind of “is this my life now?”

This book can seem almost simple at points. Like I mentioned earlier, certain chapters are just listed dialogue between characters and it feels very reserved in places, but a lot of this is down to it being a lot shorter than I expected. But it still leaves your heart aching at the end. In just over 200 pages, Dear Martin has the reader in the palm of its hand with a protagonist to root for from the very first page, until the very end. My only wish is that it was longer.

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Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

The Fear Of A Series Reboot…

We all have our series that we love with every piece of our heart. From Percy Jackson, to Harry Potter, Twilight to A Darker Shade of Magic. Ask any reader and I’m sure they’ll be able to name at least one that they constantly revisit. Sometimes, we yearn for the possible day when we might finally get to know what happens after the final book ends, and sometimes the ending is just so perfect that we can move on to the next adventure; satisfied with the outcome.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a book that I never would have picked up if it wasn’t for the announcement of a film adaption which would also be directed by Tim Burton. I was gifted the first book and entered the experience with trepidation because my tolerance for creepy/horror is not good. Frankly, I didn’t expect to fall in love with it the way that I did. The combination of prose and unusual photographs, the depth of the characters and world building had me completely hooked until I moved onto the next installment… and then the next.

While a very emotional reader, I don’t often cry at the end of a series but Library of Souls had me sobbing for an hour as I read the last paragraph over and over. It was perfect. It had the balance between getting answers, but also not knowing what happened next. Stories, just like events in life, are ambiguous in their endings. So when it was announced that Ransom Riggs would be rebooting the series with THREE new books following the same cast of characters I… had a bit of an anxiety attack. Which is really a stupid reason to have one.

For weeks I felt anxious about what this magical new fourth book, A Map Of Days, would be about. I avoided every possible mention of it let alone any snippets. Just the thought of more books genuinely made me sick. I went through the motions of whether I would even be able to read it. I went and bought it on the day of release and it has since sat on my TBR shelf, next to my Miss Peregrine figure, mocking me.

It’s a strange feeling to be so afraid of a reboot. But it’s more the What If’s: what if it’s terrible and runs how perfect the original ending was? What if the actions of the characters don’t marry up to what I expect? What if… What if… WHAT IF.

This is a very long, rambling way of me just putting my freak out into the world and now… I think it’s finally time to dive in.

Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

“At the beginning of the world, the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty.”

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Blurb: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.”

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, “bury the gays” trope.

I was on the fence for quite a while about this book until I saw FantasticBooksAndWhereToFindThem’s review  which finally swayed me to give it a go. So with a shiny new audible credit, I decided to opt for the audiobook and straight away, this was the best decision. The narrator – Rosie Jones – is utterly incredible. Her range of accents is phenomenal and she captures the character of Camellia perfectly: all her innocence, passion and naivety. It’s almost impossible not to feel completely sucked up into the world of Orléans with our remarkable protagonist.

In this world, the beauty industry mirrors our own with its set of trends, magazines and beauty rooms where residents can get makeovers but for a price. However, in Orléans, Belles have the ability to make people beautiful but it’s never permanent. The process is brutal and more detailed than I even expected. I often found myself stopping what I was doing and sitting back to just listen to Camellia talk about what she was doing.

The writing is gorgeous. Everything is described through the use of food imagery which was a very clever technique as it made the world feel rich and enticing.

Princess Sofia is a standout character for me on the grounds that she is simply terrifying. Whenever she appeared in the scene I physically tensed as if that would change the course of events in some way.

However, this book was incredibly slow. There’s no real action until the last quarter and by that point I was just feeling bored. The Belles reads very much as a set up book and I feel that the sequel is when that characters are really going to hit the ground running.

As I referenced at the start, there is a scene of sexual assault that is quite heavy and the perpetrator is not reprimanded for it. Also a gay character is killed off for absolutely no reason other than shock value. Please exercise self-care before reading.

Also Clayton wrote a twitter thread about the need for more POC reviewers in general, especially ones talking about her book. Here’s a link to Rich In Colour’s review  that picked up on specific themes I didn’t and if you know any others, please let me know so I can link them as well!

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, fantasy, young adult

Audiobook Of The Month | Lady Midnight

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I’m sure every reader on the planet has heard about Cassandra Clare, let alone The Dark Artifices series, but here I am spending the month of October venturing into a reread in preparation for the finale in December.

Lady Midnight is the first installment in The Dark Artifices series and set a few years after the events that took place in the hugely popular The Mortal Instruments which has been made both into a TV show and a movie.

The book focuses on a young shadowhunter Emma Carstairs who is trying to uncover the secrets behind her parents mysterious deaths and seek vengeance upon those responsible, with the help of her Parabatai Julian Blackthorn.

Cassandra Clare made a big point with this new series that it intended to be an entryway to the world for new readers. While that is nice in theory, Clare consistently adds characters of plot elements that tie every one of her books together (for example, if you haven’t read The Mortal Instruments you’re instantly spoiled for the ending in the first twenty pages of Lady Midnight). While I loved this book when I first read it, the constant heads to the other series really took me out of the experience because, to frequent readers, this book is mostly just recap. But, if it was a new reader approaching it, then it’s absolutely necessary.

I’m enjoying seeing the relationship dynamics play out and the story is starting to get going now. I’m 35% through at the time of writing this post.

Have you read Lady Midnight?

What did you think?

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

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

“I was the guy in the hot dog tie. You were the guy mailing stuff back to your ex-boyfriend. I loved your laugh. Wish I’d gotten your number. Want to give me a second chance here, universe?”

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Blurb: “Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things. But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

While being a big Becky Albertalli fan, I’m not that keen on Adam Silvera so when What If It’s Us was announced I was very wary about whether I’d like it or not, but it did feel inevitable that these two authors would come together to co-write a book.

What If It’s Us starts with a meet-cute in a post office and becomes the catalyst for everything that follows in the story. It was an unbelievably adorable moment that has such an impact that when Arthur stupidly forgets to get Ben’s name – let alone his number – he ends up trolling through the internet in the hopes of finding this cute boy again. I adored the internet aspect and think it’s something that will be so relatable to other readers. I found myself willing that one of them would eventually find that virtual breadcrumb that would lead them on the path back to each other.

Ben is a white-passing Puerto-Rican recovering from a break up with his boyfriend who is forced to be around in summer school, which doesn’t really help the “moving on” process. Arthur is in New York for the summer and very much believes in signs from the universe.

My favourite thing about What If It’s Us was the idea of re-doing moments. After their piovetal first meet, Arthur is determined for things to be perfect, while Ben wants to replace memories of his old relationship with a new one. Whenever something goes slightly wrong, they agree to redo it and have several first dates to try and make it the best it can be. When it comes to sex, it was wonderful to see consent discussed and how when one of the boys changes his mind, the other is fully supportive and waits for another time without pressuring him. Everything about the relationship just felt real; there were bumps in the road, miscommunication, worries about what happens after the summer, all of which were nice to see and just showed them growing as a couple. Not all of it is plain sailing as there are moments of homophobia which  is a sad reminder than not everyone in society is as accepting as those close to us may be. Another thing I loved was how they were willing to look into each other’s passions (such as Hamilton) to get to know the other person. It was little things like that which had more of an impact than words.

My only real issue was that there didn’t seem to be much distinction in the narratives which was a big shame given how much world/character building there was in the different perspectives. I often found it difficult to work out who I was following and I had to go back to the start of the chapter to check.

Overall What If It’s Us is a ridiculously cute story that shows the power of the universe, and fighting for what you love.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”

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Blurb: “The night Cameron Post’s parents died, her first emotion was relief. Relief they would never know that hours earlier, she’d been kissing a girl. Now living with her conservative Aunt in small-town Montana, hiding her sexuality and blending in becomes second nature to Cameron until she begins an intense friendship with the beautiful Coley Taylor. Desperate to ‘correct’ her niece, Cameron’s Aunt takes drastic action. Now Cameron must battle with the cost of being her true-self even if she’s not completely sure who that is.”

The first time I heard about this film was when the news came out that the adaptation, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, had won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Slowly, it started to peak my interest more.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the epitome of someone exploring their sexuality without really focusing on labels. Cameron goes through the novel experiencing attractions to certain girls not really even identifying those feelings. She just likes it. She kisses her best friend and then her parents die the next day and, as any young person would, she sees this as some sort of punishment for her actions. In fact, she has a few semi-romantic attractions before getting to the infamous Coley Taylor who is mentioned on the blurb.

I like the way this book handled the topic of grief and how everything in this story, however unlikely, leads Cameron to processing and moving on from the dark parts of her life. Set in a small religious town in the eighties-nineties, it’s predictable in the places it goes when it comes to differing sexualities but all of it plays a part in building how Cameron sees herself not through her own lens, but the lens of everyone else. Those she has sexual encounters with are more than happy to get physical with her but feel shame and push her away when Cameron tries to return the favour. There are no big twists that will leave the reader shocked (bar one in the latter part). It’s fundamentally about Cameron just going through the “important” stages of her formative years.

There is a big conversion therapy section to this book and as harsh and manipulative as imagined. But at the same time, it felt almost like more of a summer camp with religious pressure and didn’t go in as hard as I was expecting it to.

The writing style itself doesn’t do much for me, there’s a lot of run on sentences and the book is much longer than it needs to be. But there was just something about Cameron’s character that kept me wanting to know more.

A coming of age story that tackles sexuality, grief and religion, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is worth a read.

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Posted in review, Uncategorized

Virtually Sleeping Beauty – K.M.Robinson

“Find the girl; get out.”

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Blurb: “She may be doing battle in the virtual world, but in the real world, they can’t wake her up.”

K.M.Robinson has become known for fairytale retellings and Virtually Sleeping Beauty is no different. In this novella, she takes another classic tale and, this time, gives it a sci-fi twist.

The story follows Royce who learns that a girl called Rora has been playing the virtual reality game for longer than the allotted time. Becoming the hero, he delves into the universe hoping that he can be the one to break her free.

From the outset, the tension is palpable: there is the real sense that Rora’s life is on the line if the cast of characters don’t work quick to get her out of the game. Given this is a novella, I was glad to see this woven into the plot from the very first page. I thought it was a really interesting choice to tell the story from Royce’s point of view as it made him an onlooker to what Rora had to do due to the limitations of the game; he spends a lot of the story looking on, unable to help. Everything in this novella just seemed to pull together so perfectly that when I turned the page and was met with the acknowledgements, I felt almost cheated.

I did have a few typos in my kindle copy so I wish more time had been taken to make sure these errors weren’t present, and I wish the story was a little more developed as I would’ve liked to see more details and places within the game itself.

But overall, K.M.Robinson adds another marvellous read to her catalogue.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in the world.”

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Blurb: “Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show. Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father. When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

I’ve heard a lot about Caraval since its release but, while the kind of genre I would eat up in a heartbeat, seeing the many mixed reviews put me off delving in. It was only after listening to Stephanie Garber’s interview on the 88 Cups Of Tea podcast that I decided to finally give the book a go.

I will be truthful, as that is a fundamental part of being a reviewer. I found it incredibly difficult to get into the first half of this book. I didn’t connect to any of the characters so it was hard for me to really root for them. Even when the main crux – Tella’s kidnapping for the game – becomes apparent, I didn’t really miss Tella at all. I contemplated putting down the book several times but kept pushing forward because I know so many people who deeply love this book and wanted to understand why. The second half is infinitely better as the pieces of the puzzle start to slot together.

I really loved the letters at the start of book which convey to the reader just how many years Scarlett has spent dreaming about going to Caraval. Her invitation comes at a pivotal moment; when she is just about to get married to her anonymous suitor. When she finally gets there, it reminds me a lot of Coraline in the sense that everything is not as it seems. What appears magical on the surface is rooted in darkness and it’s impossible to take anything at face value. I found myself cursing at points when Scarlett was tricked by certain characters.

Also, a very small thing but I am a sucker for people having nicknames and I loved every time Julian, the sailor boy who became Scarlett’s teammate, calls Scarlett “Crimson.”

Fundamentally, it’s a detective story, rooted in familial love. Scarlett is looking for her sister and it was interesting to see so many dead ends play out over the course of the story, forcing Scarlett to think harder and really prove how much Tella means to her.

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