Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Tunnel Of Bones – Victoria Schwab

“You are my best friend. In life, in death, and everything else in between.”

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Blurb: “Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.”

The sequel to City Of Ghosts sees protagonist Cassidy Blake doing more ghost hunting, but this time things are getting even more dangerous. The series as a whole gives me immense Coraline vibes and does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery and downright creepiness of the situations. Unlike its predecessor, Tunnel Of Bones takes place in Paris which feels like a breath of fresh air, and also opens up ghostly happenings to the rest of the world which I only hope continues with future books.

Victoria Schwab has a fantastic talent for descriptions and visuals. She weaves aspects together in such a way where they are detailed, unique and incredibly distinctive. Everything just clicks together and fits perfectly.

Of course, every book needs a menace to overthrow and in this one, it’s a pretty nasty poltergeist. The mystery and tension around him is unbearable at many points and he defies everything that both Cassidy and the reader has learned about how the veil world works so far.

The absolute gem of this story is Cassidy and Jacob’s relationship and how it continues to grow and flourish. Their lives are so woven and interconnected and I have so many fears for the future. But for now, I will enjoy the wonders of their friendship.

Tunnel Of Bones shows that Victoria Schwab continues to grow as an author and is one that we are very, very lucky to have.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Rebel – S.M.Wilson

“But Lincoln knew that while there might be the chance of fertile land, more space and more food on Piloria, it all came at a cost. A cost he’d witnessed. Could humans and dinosaurs really inhabit the same continent?”

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Blurb: “Storm and Lincoln’s city is burning. The people are starving. The only place left to run is Piloria, the continent of monsters. It’s up to Storm and Lincoln to keep their people alive as they colonize this lethal paradise. But will the biggest threat to their survival be the monsters in the jungle…or the ones inside the encampment with them?”

The Extinction Trials has been a dinosaur filled saga that constantly questions what people are willing to do in order to survive. The final book in this series, The Extinction Trials: Exile, sees the inhabitants of Earthasia face the biggest decision of all: stay here and die, or move to a dinosaur infested island for the chance of a new life.

An interesting aspect to see of this book was the result of people getting a cure for an certain illness. In a world where everything is so heavily restricted I never really thought about the effects fixing a seemingly minor problem would have on the society. The city is even more overcrowded than before and, with the belief dinosaurs are no more, the masses seek to relocate. I thought it was interesting to see this two distinctive continents suddenly be reduced to one and watch the gap continue to grow between those who had been to Piloria before and those who hadn’t. I loved seeing the politics once again start to take over in a new setting as people decided they should remain in charge and essentially just colonise another island when raptors were just having a grand time running around eating people.

One small but unexpected thing I’ve loved consistently throughout this series is the perfect balance between the dual perspectives. Just when I was starting to wonder what Lincoln was doing, I’d turn the page to find his chapters. Also, S.M.Wilson has just a way with visual writing that at times I really felt like I was in Piloria myself.

However, this book really did suffer from “second book syndrome” despite being the finale. At 200 pages in, nothing had really happened and I was starting to wonder if anything ever would. It just didn’t have that push or urgency expected from the last book, and despite loving the first two so much, it was actually a disappointing end. Admittedly, I feel a little cheated.

The Extinction Trials: Exile, fell short of all the promise it had, but overall is a series very worth investing the time into.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“If she knew how often I was thinking about her, she wouldn’t feel lonely.”

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Blurb: “Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.”

Trigger warnings: drug abuse, addiction, alcoholism, and abortion.

I recently read The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo and absolutely adored it. So when news hit that Taylor Jenkins Reid had a new book on the horizon, of course I was counting down the days.

After the success with my previous audiobook, I decided to pick up this one in the same format. I was not disappointed. There’s a whole cast and it’s absolutely brilliant. Every narrator seemed to know their character so well and conveyed their personalities perfectly. There wasn’t a single weak link; not one voice that put me off when it came to a particular point of view. Much like its predecessor, Daisy Jones & The Six reads as if an interview is being conducted. While listening to the story unfold, I couldn’t help but picture each other the characters sat in a chair talking about their role in this rock band while looking directly into a camera.

While Daisy’s name is in the title, it was the surrounding characters that really captured my attention. Billy, the vocalist of the band, deals heavily with alcohol addiction and he was captivating to listen to. Even though I hated most of what he did in the story, his perspective has left a lasting impression.

While music obviously plays a big part of the story, it was fascinating to see everything behind the scenes from recording studios, to being on the road, to leaving feuds behind when on stage. It’s an incredibly well-rounded story and Taylor Reid Jenkins did a brilliant job of managing all the different plot threads.

It was also so great to see all the female characters in this book fight to stand up for themselves in a male dominated industry.

Daisy Jones & The Six knocked me off my feet and scooped me back up right at the end, giving me lots to think about for a very long time.

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Posted in review

Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds: The Musical Drama

“The chances of anything man-like on Mars are a million to one.”

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Blurb: “Marrying the suspense, drama and urgency of Wells’ original novel with Jeff Wayne’s rousing and flamboyant score, Audible’s new and exclusive dramatisation uses action, narration, original music and evocative sound design to immerse listeners in a world that’s as thrilling as it is desolate.”

War Of The Worlds is something that I have heard about many times, primarily Jeff Wayne’s adaptation, but never actually experienced. I’ve said before that sci-fi tends to be more miss than hit for me so it’s something that I’ve tended to bypass at every opportunity. Until one day when I was scrolling through Audible and got an advert for a new musical drama version featuring some big names such as Michael Sheen and Taron Egerton.

This new adaptation, exclusive to Audible, features the musical scores from Jeff Wayne’s incredibly popular version of the book by H.G.Wells. I am a little bit more familiar with the music so felt that kind of rush you get when experiencing something you love. My only real gripe is that it’s pushed as a “musical drama” but this is slightly misleading. It’s more of an audio drama: the story being narrated with sound manipulated to fill in the gaps and immerse the reader, but the lyrics are not present.

The manipulation of sound for this adaptation is truly incredible. The familiar elements from Jeff Wayne pop up when all hope really does feel lost. Where the visual is lost, sounds allow the listener’s mind to run away with them. I found myself completely hooked the whole way through.

Michael Sheen takes on the role of the journalist who narrates the events of the alien invasion. Without a doubt he is the driving force and just utterly phenomenal. It’s a testament to how good an actor he is that even in voice work he was able to convey one man’s determination to simply stay alive and get back to his wife, voiced by Anna-Marie Wayne. She is equally as brilliant and you really get this sense of her also just trying to stay alive long enough to get back to her husband. It really felt like I was listening to something that actually happened. It was raw, tense, and just brilliant.

If you have an audible subscription, or are willing to get a free trial, or just make a one-off payment, I highly recommend you spend your time listening to this.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Jackpot – Nic Stone

“I could say what I planned to: I think the lady is holding on to a big winner and doesn’t know it. That she made an impression on me, and I think she deserves to cash that ticket in and enjoy the rest of her time here in this often unkind world. But will he believe me?”

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Blurb: “Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize.”

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Nic Stone is the author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out which I both loved. So naturally I jumped at the chance to read a new book from her.

I’m a sucker for unlikely duos: people from different worlds working together. Rico is poor working all hours outside school whereas rich Zan is giving twenty dollars to classmates just so he can take their seats in class. While she is trying to keep her head above water with homework and paying rent, Zan has the luxuries that Rico could only dream of, even if the wealth is his parents and not his own. Zan messes up a lot over the course of the book in how he speaks about Rico’s situation but slowly he learns about the privilege he owns.

Jackpot is initially a treasure trail trying to find the kind woman on Christmas Eve who possibly forgot about her winning lottery ticket. But beyond that there’s discussions of poverty and class difference. A serious medical situation highlights the reality for so many Americans: not being able to afford healthcare. Rico’s mum says she would rather die than end up in hospital because the debt would end them.

The narrative is broken up by thoughts from inanimate object such as salt shakers in a diner the duo visited, or the winning lottery ticket itself. This was an interesting way of providing an outside perspective on the characters’ situation. They almost act as the narrator addressing the reader’s concerns.

Nic Stone has this incredibly way of writing that just sucks me into the characters lives and makes me feel so deeply for them. I have loved every single one of her books so far and I think Jackpot is my new favourite.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Infinity Son – Adam Silvera

“I’m dead set on living my one life right now, but I can’t say the same for my brother.”

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Blurb: “Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures. Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day. Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.”

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Adam Silvera has always been a hit and miss author for me. I tend to find that I really love his ideas but the execution falls a little short. However, when I heard that his new book was not going to be a contemporary but in fact was a YA fantasy, I was really intrigued to see with what he’d come up with. Adam talks in the introduction of this book about his experiences with fantasy and gay fiction growing up and how it was something that he never really saw representation until he came across City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare. It made him realise those kinds of stories can be published and began working on his own. Initially, the heroes in this book were heterosexuals and changed to gay leads later on.

Emil and Brighton are brothers but totally different. Brighton is famous online and wants to be a celestial whereas Emil wants to live the most boring and mundane life possible. This world is made up of specters, celestials and spell walkers but there’s not much distinctive explanation given to fully understand what makes them different. With the main characters already existing in this world, daily things are told through dialogue more as a “you already know this” than a “we need to explain this to you and therefore the reader.” Emil is a gay teen but the nice thing to see is that it’s more a footnote in the wider story. While coming out stories are incredibly important, the ones where those characters just exist alongside their sexuality are equally important; especially in fantasy where diversity is sometimes lacking.

It’s multiple perspective which at times I felt was detrimental to the story. I wanted to learn more about Emil and Brighton in their little duo and the breaks away from them were sometimes jarring and done so to flesh out another part of the world.

The story is set as if this is in modern day so technology is used to capture footage of the magical beings and often swung a certain way to feed the agenda of respective sides. Interesting world building in a political sense but just wish the finer details of magic were explained a bit better. There’s a lot of “it’s not like that” at story clichés that end up being true such as the chosen one. It reminded me of how in movies they’d go “this isn’t a movie.” A small niggle but it felt like an attempt to distance itself from stories that existed within the world to try and make it more real and its own entity. 

The ending of this book was truly incredible and has me gasping that I have to wait even longer to find out what happens next. Adam Silvera’s first fantasy book is a triumph and I look forward to seeing him grow over the series in this new genre.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Again, But Better – Christine Riccio

“I needed to know there was at least one other 20+ person out there feeling as alone and lost as I was at the time and couldn’t find one. This is for all the teens, young adults, who feel like they’ve been left behind” – Christine Riccio.

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Blurb: “Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal—but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change—there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!”

I’ve followed Christine’s booktube and her her writing series ever since it began. I knew the moment it came out I would want to read it and, when that day arrived, I didn’t hesitate. As with all my reading lately, I picked up the audiobook and the narrator, Brittany Pressley was just incredible at doing voices to distinguish the characters and it really felt like I was listening to the story play out and that she really cared about what she was narrating.

Shane is a very relatable character: she’s a bundle of nerves, loves reading any YA books she can get her hands on, and also feels like she wasted most of her college experience because she was too afraid to leave her room. She sees this study abroad period to London as an opportunity to right everything that she’s been doing wrong; a chance to become someone new. I saw a lot of myself in Shane and I feel that if I’d have this book when I was 20 that it would have encouraged me out of my shell a bit more. I was right there with Shane through every awkward encounter. It really helps that she has a group of new friends around her to bounce around interactions with and show that growth she has throughout the book. However, as the romantic element of the story kicks in, those side characters I grew to love, such as Babe, were sidelined and ended up falling a bit flat.

Again, But Better tackles the idea of “what would you do differently if you could do everything again… but better?” It’s something I think everyone’s experienced at some point in their life and it was interesting to see that explored over the course of this book and I thought it was a really nice redirect in the story.

I had a few niggles which are as follows: Shane is basically Christine self-inserted into her own novel. I’ve trying to work out whether this comes from me knowing Christine from her videos as a lot of Shane’s personality and preferences are shared with Christine, though I feel like this would not be as obvious to someone who doesn’t know her prior to reading the book. There’s a lot of pop culture references used to frame the timeline which I don’t mind in contemporary (I like the little nods here and there) but there were so many that I reached a point where I actually wanted them to stop. A lot of them as well were incredibly niche book mentions that readers in 5 years time probably won’t know. One part of this that particularly grated was when Shane uses the abbreviation for The Fault In Our Stars, TFIOS, but when asked what it stands for by another character she doesn’t elaborate any further than “only the best book ever.”

In addition, there is fact that Shane’s love interest, Pilot, has a girlfriend but this doesn’t stop her trying to pursue him, and this isn’t really called out by anyone, let alone herself until the Pilot’s girlfriend actually comes to visit. This is something I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really hate but honestly, maybe it was the narrator doing such an amazing job, it didn’t really ruin my reading experience like I thought it might do.

The conclusion feels kind of rushed, almost like an afterthought to the main bulk of the story. But overall, I enjoyed Again But Better a lot more than I thought I would.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

“I am Mackenzie Bishop. I am a keeper for the archive and I am the one who goes bump in the night, not the one who slips. I am the girl of steel, and this is all a bad dream.”

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Blurb: “Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.”

The sequel to The Archived sees Mackenzie Bishop is experiencing PTSD from the events in the previous book. She starts blacking out for significant periods of time and has to balance the job of being a keeper alongside going to school.

The same time flashes continue in this book, giving the reader further insight into Mackenzie’s relationship with her grandfather which keeps him present and reinforces the ideals he taught the protagonist. Wesley continues to be prominent and provides that outlet for Mackenzie to open herself up to and support her with the growing demands of being a keeper.

As always with Schwab’s books, there’s a big mystery and dangerous things to deal with which keeps the reader on their toes. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve worked out the big reveal, I’m surprised by the end result and that’s the magic that keeps my love for this author’s work alive.

The Unbound doesn’t shy away from the mental strain Mackenzie is going through. Alongside the trauma, she is trying to live a normal life. The pressure and tension build as she is nowhere near a door to the narrows while at school, and given the amount of time she spends there, the names on her list keep growing faster than she can take them out. It feels as if everything is building to the point of explosion and Schwab carries this through expertly.

While this book has many threads that I love about Schwab’s stories but compared to its predecessor, it falls a little flat. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the world opens up but only follows Mackenzie. With no other perspectives to veer off to, it feels like the space is too big for the story its trying to tell.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Archived – Victoria Schwab

“This summer when I tell you I can’t see anything, you just shrug and light another cigarette, and go back to telling stories. Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will never forget. I never do.”

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Blurb: “Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.”

Note: I read the two-in-one The Dark Vault edition of this book, but for the sake of keeping these posts relatively short, I will be reviewing the books separately rather than the collection as a whole.

I have come to love Victoria Schwab and her books in a great many ways. Every single book she releases feels like something that has never been seen before and it’s always executed in such a way that only she could do by putting pen to paper. The Archived – republished in a collection- is one of her earlier books that sadly led to a painful situation for Schwab. However, given her ever growing success it appears all her seemingly “lost” books are getting a second chance. Which is great for people like me who will happily bite off the hand of anyone who offers new stories from this author.

Victoria Schwab’s stories always have a darkness to them. Naturally the kind that is in your face, but also the more decrete kind where something… just something… feels a little bit off, and it’s equal parts awe inspiring and terrifying. Her world building is exquisite and readers are introduced to three “worlds” within this universe: the “outer” which is the regular world, the “archive” where the Histories are stored, and the “narrows”, the place where the Histories – bodies returning to the dead- manage to escape to; it’s basically a bridge between the outer and the narrows.

Mackenzie is a character that very much has a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’s reeling from the death of her brother and is struggling to deal with the influx of Histories she has to return to the archived as it’s the secret job she took on after the passing of her grandfather. She’s self-assured, bad ass, snarky, everything you really want in a female protagonist but also she has that emotional depth that really rounds her out. When she meets Wesley, another with access to her secret world, the reader sees her enter a new dynamic where she has to consider letting her guard down for the firs time in a long while. I loved seeing their bond build and how Wesley was very much there to support Mackenzie rather than take the spotlight away from her, or imply she wasn’t up to the work they were doing.

There’s an element of mystery and investigation woven through this story which keeps it exciting at every single turn. The narrative flicks between the present and the past which showcases the relationship between Mackenzie and her grandfather. Also, the balance between time spent in each world is perfect and prevents any lulls from happening. I was hooked the whole way through.

The Archived is part of a long list of books from Victoria Schwab that are utterly incredible and I will never ever tire of her work.

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Posted in contemporary, review

Meat Market – Juno Dawson

“I am body. I am flesh, I am meat.”

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Blurb: “Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom. But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.”

Trigger warnings: disordered eating, drug addiction, sexual assault, victim blaming, body shaming, transphobia.

Following the success of her previous book, Clean, Juno Dawson is back and it feels like she has found her writing niche. Clean was applauded for being raw and brutally honest and her new release, Meat Market, is no different.

The fashion industry is depicted as cruel and abusive with overworked models on juice cleanses, taking drugs to stay awake or sleep, waiting hours in casting corridors, and sexual misconduct. The themes are incredibly heavy especially on the sexual assault side. So please exercise caution if you decide to give it a read.

Jana is scouted to a model for Prestige and quickly becomes the flavour of the month. She goes from being bullied for her skinny frame to doing ad campaigns. Her arc over the course of Meat Market is exquisite. She starts off quite unique and takes everything at face value from those that claim to care about her and ends up down some dark paths as a result, even when she acknowledges they may not be the right ones to take. Eventually she begins to understand her worth and the power she actually does, which gives her the foundation to fight back and stand up for herself.

In a very odd way, I tend to enjoy contemporaries a lot more when they’re not centered in our reality too much. I like where there are comparisions you can make but the story stands up almost within it’s own bubble. The sexual assault scandal in Meat Market reminded me a lot of the #metoo movement and left me just as sick to my stomach.

As with all my books lately, this was another audiobook listen. The narrator, Avita Jay, did my favourite thing of using different voices for the characters. It added so much to the personalities of the surrounding characters.

Meat Market is an brilliant feat from Juno Dawson and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

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