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 contemporary, review, young adult

Songs About A Girl – Chris Russell

“This, my friend, could be the beginning of something epic…”

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Blurb: “Charlie Bloom never wanted to be ‘with the band’. She’s happiest out of the spotlight, behind her camera, unseen and unnoticed. But when she’s asked to take backstage photos for hot new boy band Fire&Lights, she can’t pass up the chance. Catapulted into a world of paparazzi and backstage bickering, Charlie soon becomes caught between gorgeous but damaged frontman, Gabriel West, and his boy-next-door bandmate Olly Samson. Then, as the boys’ rivalry threatens to tear the band apart, Charlie stumbles upon a mind-blowing secret, hidden in the lyrics of their songs…”

Songs About A Girl is a book that just happened upon when scouring the shelves at my local library. When I saw it was all about boybands, I knew it was something that would appeal to the teen in me and… let’s be honest, me currently. It’s just an aspect of life that is so intoxicating and easy to relate to.

Charlie Bloom is a brilliant protagonist but not without her tropes: she’s really into photography, just trying to keep her head down and, of course, doesn’t understand why everyone seems to be so obsessed with this boyband called Fire & Lights. Enter best friend Melissa to keep her up to speed. If there was any character I saw bits of myself in through this story it was definitely Melissa: she’s excitable, over the top, obsessed with boybands and knows every tiny detail, wants to marry them, almost pees in excitement at the mere thought of meeting them. Trust me, I’ve been there. She just had this energy the whole way through the plot and she really did steal all of the attention when she was on the page.

I thought it was clever to have the boyband within reach. One of the members used to go to the same high school as Charlie so when he initially reaches out to her to do photography work for the band it didn’t feel that far-fetched. I know it’s fiction but it had that element that just made it believable. Also Chris Russell is in a band himself so I feel that added an extra bit of authenticity to band life.

I loved each of the bandmates and they were fully fleshed out in their own rights and the backstory of Gabriel proved far more interesting than I expected it to be.

There are often discussions about the lack of technology within YA books and for me this is where Songs About A Girl excels. The use of social media plays a big role in not just the story, but the overall daily lives of the characters with excerpts from the number one fan site and, unfortunately there’s a lot of online bullying which is all too common in real life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this whole book and was really pleased to discover that it’s actually the first in a trilogy! However, at just short of 500 pages, it felt longer than it needed to be, though I’m not sure what could have been cut.

A fun read about loving music unconditionally and grabbing opportunities when they come around, Songs About A Girl is such to light up your world.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Almost Love – Louise O’Neill

“No one had ever told Sarah that being in a relationship could feel like coming home. That love didn’t have to mean feeling scared all the time.”

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Blurb: “When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard. So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.”

I’ve always entered Louise O’Neill’s books with a sense of trepidation because they have the habit of being an utterly terrifying insight into our current climate. Almost Love is O’Neill’s first adult book and might just be my favourite book of hers yet.

The story kicks into play when the protagonist- Sarah- bumps into her ex, Matthew. Through jumps in time, between past and present, the reader sees the relationship unfold with Matthew and how it goes on to affect the “now” in Sarah’s current relationship. She’s often abrasive to her boyfriend and there’s one particular scene which nearly broke my heart.

The main theme is obsessive love; that waiting for the call, hanging around when they’re clearly not interested and a lot of graphic sex: both consensual and not really consensual. All of Sarah’s relationships with men have been centred around money: she would reach for her purse knowing full well the men would be paying.

I’m not normally a big fan of slow reads and this is one of those books with no real climatic moments but it was all-consuming in a way I can’t quite place. Sarah is a fascinating character and it was all too easy to sympathise with her justifications for Matthew’s behaviour.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aoife McMahon which was incredible. As I said, it’s a slow burn and I think I would’ve become easily bored if I was physically reading, but her tone and the way she told the story just had me flying through the book. If you’re looking for a way to consume this book, I highly recommend the audiobook.

 

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Posted in contemporary, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea (Chapter Sampler) – Tahereh Mafi

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 breakdancing. It’s my story, and I’m grateful to you for reading.”

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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.”

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

Additional Note: I am very aware that as a white reviewer that there are aspects of this story I cannot connect to and I am sharing this from a place of privilege. If you know of any own voice reviews of this sampler please let me know and I will add them here.

Like probably everyone, I know Tahereh Mafi from her best-selling YA series Shatter Me and I have been a follower of all her social media platforms for many years. She has been quite reserved when it comes to her personal life which made it even more interesting when she announced a new book – a YA contemporary taking aspects of her experiences growing up as a Muslim in America, oh and her love for breakdancing.

It’s very hard for me to judge this story fairly until the book I actually out as I was only given a first-chapter sampler but what I read has left me begging for the rest of it.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea follows Shirin who has just started at a new school; her fourth in two years. Initially, Shirin comes across as abrasive and the epitome of “fuck you and fuck the world.” However, her demeanour began to quickly make sense: she is growing up in a world that constantly takes her at face value, judging her before they even get the chance to know her. It was expected from her classmates but shocking to also see the teachers acting the same way. She addresses the double standards compared to her brother: while she is attacked for wearing a hijab and receives a torrid of islamophobia, her brother is fawned over by girls who find him “exotic.”

The reader really gets the sense that she’s struggling to find her place in the world and break dancing will become something positive she can invest her time in; something where who she is outside of the moves won’t matter. Also I’ve never read a book that really focuses on breakdancing before and I’m very intrigued to see where the rest of the story goes.

Publication Date: 16th October 2018

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

P.S I Still Love You – Jenny Han

“You gave me my first love story, Peter. Please just don’t let it be over yet.”

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Blurb: “Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?”

When I first started reading this series, I did expect to end up loving the characters the way I do, and I think a lot of that is do with the fact that I went for the audiobook. After seeing it was the same narrator for the sequel it seemed only right to continue on with this format. Laura Knight Keating is the best narrator I’ve listened to up to this point. There’s just something about the way she delivers Lara Jean’s story that really brings the character and her story to life. I can only describe it as like being given one long warm hug. Her tone and the flow of her words just create this yearning inside of me to know more about what happens to this character.

P.S I Still Love You follows on directly from the events of the previous book and sees Lara Jean continue to deal with some of the fall-out, along with starting to pursue a more real relationship with Peter. It was really nice seeing how their dynamic changed over the course of this book and it just a testament to how talented Jenny Han is at writing characters. This is a book in which Lara Jean really does start to grow up and it was quite beautiful to look at where she ends this book compared to how she started out in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

By far one of the best things about this series is the portrayal of family life. The scenes where Lara is having dinner with her siblings or trying to encourage her father to start dating again are so heart-warming and a positive family relationship is something I rarely come across in YA books. It was just lovely to see each member of this family support each other.

There’s a big viral social media scandal that takes place in this book, of course centred around Lara Jean, and while it was horrifically painful to read, it was interesting to see the use of technology in a YA book. Again, given that there’s a lot of talk about the lack of it being present in these kinds of contemporary stories.

However, this book very much falls into the line of “second book syndrome.” It’s still enjoyable but it’s not on the same level as the previous one. The last quarter really dragged for me and, from the synopsis, I knew a love triangle was coming –which I really loathe- and it was that aspect that drastically pulled this book down for me because it just wasn’t needed. P.S I Still Love You had enough going for it without throwing this random other boy into the mix.

Having said that, my overall enjoyment was still there. I continued to love Lara Jean so much and I will definitely be picking up the final book at some point very soon.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Noah Could Never – Simon James Green

“Sometimes having something really nice in your life was worse than not having it, because it made you worried you were going to lose it. And losing something is worse when you know just how wonderful the thing is.”

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Blurb: “Noah and Harry are now officially boyfriends, but is Noah ready to go all the way? It’s no help that a group of cosmopolitan French exchange students have descended on Little Fobbing – including sexy Pierre Victoire, who seems to have his eye on Harry! Meanwhile, Noah’s paired up with a girl … who, most outrageously, is not even French. But that’s not all: the police are monitoring Noah, and he can’t tell if it’s because his dad and secret half-brother, Eric, have made off with his gran’s fake diamonds; because his PE teacher is receiving mysterious cash infusions from Russia; or because drag queen Bambi Sugapops is hiding out at Noah’s house in the midst of a knock-down, bare-knuckled drag feud. Will Noah ever catch a break?”

Noah Can’t Even was a book I discovered in 2017 by pure chance, through an author interview with another reviewer. It was brilliant, hysterical and found its way onto my list of favourite books for the year. So, naturally, when I heard the news of a sequel, I was impatiently counting down the days until its release.

I honestly don’t know where to start with the protagonist, Noah Grimes. He is over-the-top, constantly battling this pressure to be better than he is, sarcastic and unintentionally hysterical, as well as painfully cringy at times. Frankly the list of reasons I love this character is just too long to cover here. There are many situations that Noah ends up in that could only happen to him: from ending up travelling to London with a drag queen, getting landed with a French exchange student who isn’t even French, and (in possibly my favourite scene in fiction ever) having to chase around a goose that has swallowed some family diamonds.

After reading the synopsis when it first came out, I was very worried as sequels can go drastically one way or the other. Initially, it felt like there were too many things happening for such a short book to fully explore. But, I can confirm that it all just slots together and works perfectly. As I said, it could only happen to Noah and there were times when I couldn’t breathe for how much I was laughing as some of the events taking place.

Admittedly, I don’t tend to go for books with male protagonists. Which is weird to say but it just so happens that the books I pick up don’t tend to have them at the forefront a lot. Anyway, it was nice to see Noah and Harry establishing their relationship together but also seeing how Noah dealt with that shift: he tries to go to a gym to get buff so that Harry will love him more, worries that he’s not good enough and feels that ever recognisable pressure when it comes to sex. (I mean, of course he’d get a boner in math class, hanging from the monkey bars in gym class but heaven forbid he get one when it comes to being intimidate with his boyfriend!) While it was all delivered in the typical exaggerated way, it was nice to see that side to Noah more.

My new favourite side character had to be the drag queen, Bambi, who just seems to adopt Noah and take him on this random adventure to see her show. Some of the lines she came out with had my in absolute stitches and, as mentioned earlier, the goose scene is one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.

Noah Could Never takes every element I loved from the first one and mixes it in with brand new adventures that left me with the biggest smile on my face.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Love, Hate & Other Filters – Samira Ahmed

“Filming is the way I see things. Really see them. I can capture what is important to me at a particular moment. That way, I keep it forever.”

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Blurb: “Maya Aziz dreams of being a film maker in New York. Her family have other ideas. They want her to be a dutiful daughter who wears gold jewellery and high heels and trains to be a doctor. But jewellery and heels are so uncomfortable . . .  She’s also caught between the guy she SHOULD like and the guy she DOES like. But she doesn’t want to let Kareem down and things with Phil would never work out anyway. Would they?  Then a suicide bomber who shares her last name strikes in a city hundreds of miles away and everything changes . . .”

I can never tell if I am going to like contemporary books or not so, rather unfairly, I always go in with really low expectations. I’d heard a lot about this book so also worried that the hype may play a factor. But I didn’t need to worry so much because this book is actually really good.

The reader meets the protagonist, Maya, at a really turbulent point in her life: she’s trying to get through high school, applying to colleges and facing ever growing pressure from her parents to find the “perfect Indian boy.” From the outset her voice was so strong that it’s just impossible not to feel for some of the situations she finds herself in. Maya is really into films and takes her camera literally everywhere with her, describing it as her “shield” and this is an aspect of her character that I could personally relate to: she has a passion for something creative that some of her family don’t see as a feasible career and try to dissuade her from going ahead with it. But Maya has a strong mindset of what she wants to do and isn’t budging. I’ve faced something similar in my own life so seeing that play out in this book was all too much like reading my own story.

I’m not normally one for love triangles but I actually didn’t mind it. Phil is a white boy that Maya has crushed on forever and Kareem is the ideal match in her parent’s eyes. Each relationship was based on something different and I really liked how both of the boys fuelled a different side of her and that Maya was able to open up to them about her life in different ways.

We’re in a politically difficult time with the rise of terror attacks and Islamaphobia which is something that Ahmed addresses in the introduction of this book and why she feels representation is important. The latter half of this book focuses on the terrible racism Maya is subjected to after a terror attack happens and some of the scenes are really difficult and horrible to read. Even more so when we remember that this happening outside of a fictional setting.

However, it just felt like there was too much of a disconnect between the love triangle aspect and the thread I just mentioned. Which could be argued as “that’s how life happens it’s not entirely focused on one thing” but it felt like the story took a sudden jump which was just a bit disorientating.

Overall, Love, Hate & Other Filters is a book that will remind readers what it feels like to fall in love and the importance of standing up to injustice.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Leah On The OffBeat – Becky Albertalli

“I should have told him a year ago. I don’t think it would have been a big deal then, but now it feels insurmountable. It’s like I missed a beat somewhere, and now the whole song’s tempo.”

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Blurb: “When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.”

Becky Albertalli has cemented herself as one of my favourite authors. For someone who keeps saying she doesn’t like contemporaries (but still seems to read them anyway), I will happily devour anything she releases.

Do you need to read Simon Vs The Homo sapiens Agenda before reading Leah On The Offbeat? Absolutely. From the get-go this book is riddled with spoilers as, after all, it is a sequel.

Leah very much appears to be the outsider of the group at times. She is often the one looking on while everyone has their in-depth discussions and she rarely adds her own input until she’s with certain individuals such as Simon. It’s senior year and, as to be expected, conversations and plot are peppered with college worries, the concept of friendships ending and prom. Leah, just like possibly everyone who’s ever been a teenager, is worrying about everything.

She is also having her own internal battle with her sexuality. She is bisexual and only out to her mum. As a fat bisexual girl myself, I was able to relate to Leah in the way that she is quite comfortable with her sexuality but feels like she missed the window in which to declare it to the world; as the title implies, she’s offbeat. She doesn’t quite understand why she is unable to tell people, especially her best friend Simon who is out as gay. However, there is one particular scene that really does not sit right with me (for the sake of preserving the experience I have changed the name to Kelly). During a heart-to-heart with Leah, Kelly comes out as “low-key bi” and in response, Leah completely shuts her down, invalidates the sexuality of someone who is questioning and proceeds to storm off in a huff. In a time where LGBT books are reaching the mainstream in YA, it seems a very odd and harmful thing to include in a book. Normally I’m fine with problematic things as long as it’s called out within context and it isn’t. Leah never apologises and the scene just becomes a footnote in the overall plot. If I had read this book when I was questioning, it probably would’ve had a negative impact and I hate the idea of a questioning teen reading this book and feeling the same. It just seemed a very odd choice for Albertalli to make and I’m not sure how it slipped past editors.

There is also an instance of racism towards Abby which Leah is quick to step up and shut down and while it was lovely to see and appreciate, once it had been solved and Abby expressed this, Leah continued to hold a grunge.

But, moving on. I liked seeing Leah and Abby getting to know each other better outside of their friendship group obligations and it was nice to see some references to The Upside of Unrequited. I did struggle getting into this book at first as I reread Simon for the film and a few characters in the book are not present in the film, so once I found my feet again the book started to flow better.

Another thing that bugged me was the formatting of the Ebook. A few conversations take place through text messages and there were no bold or italic sentences to make it clear what was part of the message and what made up the narrative.

This was one of my most anticipated reads for the year, and sadly, it missed the beat.

 
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Posted in contemporary, Historical Fiction, review

How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

“All we can ever be is faithful to our memories of reality, rather than the reality itself, which is something closely related but never exactly the same.”

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Blurb: “Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life.”

There are some books where words are just not enough; books that defy every possible descriptor you could place upon them because it gives you a feeling so deep in the pit of your stomach that you simply cannot shake. Dear reader, this is one of those books.

Tom has lived for over 400 years and therefore has been around for some significant points throughout history: he has lived through the plague, survived the witch trials, performed on stage with Shakespeare, and had drinks with F.Scott Fitzgerald (you can imagine how much I squealed at that point).

As part of a society, Tom is given a new life every eight years and his current placement finds him back in London as a History teacher. This aspect was brilliantly clever as it allows the reader to be taken back through time to various points Tom is teaching about. There was just something about it that centred the universe and made everything feel more real. He walks down the familiar streets of London being constantly reminded of the wife he outlived and his daughter, born with the same genetic condition, so is out in there world but he doesn’t know where.

Fundamentally this is a story about identity: What do we become when everyone good about our lives become memories? Who are we if we outlive our loved ones? Who are we outside of our connection to others?

The writing is mesmerising and beautiful, complete with passages that force you sit back and contemplate so many things about life. It created this sense of yearning right in every part of me for something that I’m not quite sure what it is, and I don’t think I’ll ever find out.

How To Stop Time is a book that will stay with me for a very long time and has made it onto my list of favourite books of all time in the process.

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