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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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman

“I need something to live for, Allah, because right now the only thing keeping me here is you. And I’m starting to feel like that’s not enough.”

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Blurb: “16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.”

[AD-Gifted]

Trigger warnings: grief, suicide attempt and talks of suicide, ableism, sexual abuse, self harm, intrusive thoughts.

Yasmin Rahman was one of the many contributors to the YA BAME anthology A Change Is Gonna Come, and now she’s back with her debut novel.

All The Things We Never Said follows three girls: Mehreen (a muslim girl with depression and anxiety), Olivia (a victim of sexual abuse), and Cara (a wheelchair user as a result of a car accident). I loved the variety of the protagonists because it kept all of their story lines interesting and none of them felt the same. Yasmin Rahman said that it was important for her to include a Muslim character who is proud of her religion. She certainly succeeds: Mehreen’s religion is one of the many parts of her character rather than solely who she is and, in addition, religion is a form of solace for her; a way to try and process what she’s feeling. It was also nice to see Cara and Olivia actively trying to learn more about Mehreen’s belief system when they didn’t know much about it.

The website, MementoMori, which forms the basis of the story, reminds me a lot of They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera in which a website is used to bring people together at a difficult point in their lives. I love stories that are about bringing people together who would never have met if it wasn’t for them being brought together by one thing. When the plot intensifies over the course of the story, I got Pretty Little Liar vibes. There’s just so many elements and all of them were brilliantly carried out.

As noted from the trigger warnings, this book is incredibly heavy in its subject matter. For example, Cara has lots of negative thoughts around now being a wheelchair user that are quite upsetting to read, intrusive thoughts are a repetitive narrative. Despite really enjoying this book, I did have to take breaks because of some of the topics covered.  If you plan on reading, please exercise self care if you feel that you might be triggered from some of the events in this book.

I loved the early scenes of the trio together where they are just getting to know each other and understanding each other’s lives. Mehreen talks a lot about her anxiety as “chaos” and this was something I could really relate to. I just admired the way these girls were, despite the circumstances, able to find someone they could open up to.

The only thing that I found jarring was the fact that Mehreen and Cara’s perspectives are prose but Olivia’s is poetry. I appreciate the angle Yasmin was going for but I find that it often took me out of the story a little bit.

All The Things We Never Said is a fantastic debut and I can’t wait to see what Yasmin Rahman comes up with next.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance

The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

“I can no longer deny the fact that my life has taken a turn for the worst.”

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Blurb: “Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…”

I decided to pick this up after hearing that Carrie Hope Fletcher was one of the narrators, alongside Kwaku Fortune.

Tiffy is the typical eccentric, bubbly woman readers can often find in the pages of a romance novel, and Leon is a grumpy night worker who just needs that little bit of magic in his life. The narrators do a brilliant job of bringing these aspects to life and there’s just something wonderfully addictive about these characters. They balance each other perfectly and as their relationship develops it’s impossible not to be rooting for them to end up together.

An interesting narrative choice is that the duo spend the majority of the book existing outside of their connection to each other: Leon is struggling with his brother being sent down for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tiffany is starting to process the emotionally abusive relationship she’s just left. But when the pair start exchanging post-it notes, those typical early-relationship feelings start the flourish and I shared their excitement every time they found a note stuck to a cupboard door or attached to a tray of baked goods.

A small audio decision I loved in the audiobook was the audio shift when phone conversations took place. It was such a minimal detail but just made the experience even more immersive.

I adored every single aspect of this book. It filled my heart with so much warmth and joy. I will hold it in my heart for a long time.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

The Paper & Hearts Society – Lucy Powrie

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book lover is in want of a good book will always find one in a library.”

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Blurb: “Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in. She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people. Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body.”

Trigger warning: panic attacks

Lucy Powrie is a booktuber who talks about YA and classic literature. I’ve always found her so eloquent in the way she expresses her love of books and her dedication to the Twitter chat #UKYA, which she created, has been a joy to witness. NOw, at nineteen years old, she’s published her first book.

It’s almost stereotypical to say, but a book club is an experience I wish I’d had growing up. I didn’t have many friends who read for pleasure, let alone ones that were willing to talk for hours on end about characters. As the tagline says, “find your people”, and Tabby does just that. She stumbles across a book club at her new school called The Paper & Hearts Society and feels like she is validated for her love of various books, even if they are different to her peers. An aspect I really loved about this story was that every single person in this group is a different book that they love from Harry Potter, to Game Of Thrones, to the classics and that is accepted and appreciated by the others, even if they don’t like those stories at all.

Social media is explored in some ways I’ve never seen before. When Tabby’s friend requests are accepted by her new friends and she is allowed access to their online platforms, it feels like she has been given permission to see a private side of them; the inner workings of their mind. It’s something that I’d never really thought about. Of course, the negative side of the internet is shown as a big sub plot of the book is the fact that Tabby’s ex-friend, Jess, is bullying her online. It’s suffocating and horrible and shows just how easy it is to attempt to ruin someone’s life from afar under an anonymous name. It causes severe anxiety in Tabby, affects her relationships with her new friends, and causes panic attacks.

Periods get a mention and I loved how there were references to both tampons and pads to show the different tools for tackling mother nature. It’s nice to see this make a more common appearance in YA contemporaries.

The Paper & Hearts Society also has the character Olivia come out as demisexual and explain what it means. It’s a lovely little moment and a chance to educate readers on a type of sexuality they may not be as familiar with.

The real star is the narrator of the audiobook, Imogen Heap, who did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. I’d love to read more books narrated by her.

The only problem I had is that I just didn’t really gel with the story as much as I thought I might and found myself having to restart chapters again because I wasn’t really paying attention, so it took a bit of time to really  But overall, The Paper And Society is a dream for anyone in desperate need of a group of people who love books just as much as they do.

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Posted in poetry, review

Lord Of The Butterflies – Andrea Gibson

“I think I might be trapped
in a miserable person’s body.”

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Blurb:”In Andrea Gibson’s latest collection, they continue their artful and nuanced looks at gender, romance, loss, and family. Each emotion here is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart, while giving the body wings to soar.”

Trigger Warnings: talks of depression, depictions of panic attacks, mentions of blood and school shootings.

Like with all my poets lately, I discovered Andrea Gibson through the YouTube channel Button Poetry. I became absorbed by the way she talked passionately about mental health, gender and politics. Her performances always left me completely stunned when she stepped away from the microphone at the end. So when I heard that she actually has a book, it was an absolute no-brainer.

Unlike the other poets I’m familiar with, Andrea Gibson is a very hard hitting poet. Often at times she doesn’t resort to pretty images to convey the real tragedy of what she’s trying to say. She speaks it with the blunt truth which can sometimes make  her poems incredibly hard to read and listen to; but that in itself is important. We can’t keep turning away from certain situations. What makes Andrea stand out to me is her performances: she has this passion and rage that just can’t escape attention.

Lord of The Butterflies is her latest collection and covers a range of topics from gender, to her sister, to mental health, growing up, and politics. She speaks in such a captivating and eloquent way in every single poem. I found myself having to sit back for a moment and process her words.

My favourites from this book included:

“Orlando” which pays homage to the Pulse LGBT nightclub mass shooting in Florida. It was a harrowing, heartbreaking read but some of the stanzas were so powerful that they had a lasting impact.

“Ode To The Public Panic Attack” depicts the random places a panic attack can happen along with how isolating it can feel due to the ever present stigma around anxiety and panic. This was a poem I could really relate to.

Andrea Gibson continues to be one of my favourite poems and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

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Posted in Historical Fiction, lgbt, review, young adult

The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue – Mackenzi Lee

“We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with lacquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so loved.”

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Blurb: “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men. But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end.”

Trigger warnings: racism, violence, child abuse.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue is a book I put off reading for the longest time. While LGBT books are something that I eat up, often I struggle with Victorian reads.

The moment I began reading, I became hooked on the character of Henry “Monty” Montague. He is extravagant and often gets drunk, along with having many romantic moments with his friend, Percy. He reminds me a lot of Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments series. His behaviour leads to his father sending him in away for a year to get his act together before returning to be the rightful heir to the family estate. The side charcters are just as strong: Percy is a black man who suffers from epilepsy but doesn’t let his identifiers define him and is determined to live life the best way he can. Felicity, Monty’s sister, wants to go to medical school but the time period and her gender means her life is already set out for her. It doesn’t stop her using the smarts she has to get her brother out of difficult situations. In a lot of ways she reminded me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. There’s so much diversity but none of it feels like it’s been thrown in just to tick a box.

I expected this book to be a slow read following the trio spending a year exploring Europe, but it went to extremes I was not ready for. They really do end up in the most bizarre situations, many of which sadly I didn’t care for, but it was really the personalities of the characters that kept me powering through this story.

Time plays a big part. Everyone is facing a possible monumental change at the end of the year and none of them are quite ready to accept them just yet. There’s that real feeling of making memories, making every moment matter, for who knows when the next will come.

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Posted in lgbt, review, young adult

They Both Die At The End – Adam Silvera

“No matter what choices we make – solo or together – our finish line remains the same… no matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end.”

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Blurb: “On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.”

Adam Silvera has become an author that I decided to avoid. For me, his books had amazing concepts but never seemed to follow entirely through with them. So I accepted the fact that, while many readers adore his stories, they just weren’t for me. However, as I scrolled through my audiobook app looking for my next listen, They Both Die At The End came up and I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Reader, this was the first book from Adam Silvera that I really liked.

One thing that I’ll give credit to Adam Silvera for, is how he’ll introduce something new to society and make it completely normal. In this world where people find out they’re dying from a phone call, TV shows are incorporating it, there are “once in a life experiences” for quite a lot of money to those who have received their call, and of course there’s the app.

The app was a really lovely touch as it provided an outlet for people on their End Day to reach out and find someone nearby if reasons prevent them from being with their family and friends, or if they just didn’t want them to know. Certain experiences can feel completely isolating and both protagonists, Rufus and Mateo, talk about this in their respective narratives along with that pressure to find the best person to spend their final hours with. If it wasn’t for their death call, Rufus and Mateo would probably have never met and the weight of that just adds to the story even more.

Rufus and Mateo were both strong narratives but I really liked how they were different. Rufus seemed almost kind of “screw the world” and just wanted to eat at his favourite food place, whereas Mateo was just drowning over the course of the book. Mateo’s dad is in a coma, and Mateo just wanted to hide away in his room in the hopes that if he did he could somehow bypass his own death. I found myself caring so deeply for both of the characters and I think this is a lot to do with the narrators who did a fantastic job of bleeding personality into them.

The story lulled in a few places but if you expect this to be a “bucket list” type story then you’re mistaken. It’s a very quiet story about a gay boy and a bisexual boy just spending their last day together. What helped pick it back up was the extension of brief narratives emphasizing that this issue doesn’t just affect the protagonists. One heartbreaking subplot was a woman who broke off her engagement with her husband who worked at the center that dishes out the phone calls. When she receives a call the next day, she thinks her ex has set his coworker up to it as revenge, yet little does she know…

If you pick up a book literally called They Both Die At The End and think you’re going to leave the experience with a smile on your face, then I can redirect you to many books that will do just that. Death if final and talked about a lot in this book. After all, it’s the one thing none of us can escape.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Brain On Fire – Susannah Cahalan

“The mind is like a circuit of Christmas tree lights. When the brain works well, all the lights twinkle brilliantly, and it’s adaptable enough that, often, even if one bulb goes out, the rest will still shine on. But depending on where the damage is, sometimes that one blown bulb can make the whole strand go dark.”

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Blurb: “When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?”

The first time I heard about Susannah Cahalan was through the Netflix Film, of the same, in which Chloe Grace Moretz portrays her. After finding the biopic equal parts devastating and fascinating, I was really intrigued about reading the books to see the point of view from the real Susannah.

In the space of a month, Susannah Cahalan went from being a healthy woman in her twenties, to having psychotic episodes, losing almost all ability to function, and faced with the possibility of spending the rest of her life in a psychiatric hospital. She ended up being diagnosed with a rare condition called Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis which is basically where the receptors meant to protect the brain from infections mistook her brain for an infection and chose to attack it instead.

The really interesting aspect of this book is that Susannah remembers nothing from what she calls “a month of madness.” She shares moments from the early stages of her illness and talks in detail about her manic moods, paranoia, and the seizures. But once she enters the hospital it’s just blank space in her mind. For this reason, the first part of the book is reliably told from Susannah and then she actively acknowledges that the information about her experiences may not be accurate as she relied on interviews she conducted with medical staff, video footage, and her parents’ journals to piece everything together. This inadvertently worked really well in getting the outside perspectives from those around her and to get a sense of the scale this illness affected not just her but those who loved her.

It’s also a testament to how much medicine and science continues to grow and evolve with research. Susannah’s scans all came back completely clear. She was the 217th person to be diagnosed with the condition.

Brain On Fire paved the way for more research into brain activity and helped many people who had been misdiagnosed get the help they needed. The number of those diagnosed now is in the thousands.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

A Pocketful Of Stars – Aisha Bushby

“I sit back and wait for magic to happen. But this isn’t a fairy tale, and princesses don’t wake up after kisses.”

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Blurb: “Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games.”

[AD – Gifted]

[Note: I am friends with the author but this in no way affects my review of this book]

A Pocketful Of Stars is the debut Children’s fiction book from Aisha Bushby who many will know from her short story in the BAME anthology A Change Is Going To Come. 

Safiya is an avid gamer and addicted to Studio Ghibli films. She’s forced to deal with failing friendships, an inability to stand up for herself, and the fact that her mother is in hospital. When she begins to have strange dreams involving a younger version of her mother in Kuwait, she becomes obsessed with trying to piece everything together in the hopes of her mother waking up.

Children are not exempt from bad things happening to them and having a serious topic, the possibility of grief, at the forefront of a book is something I really can see helping children who find themselves in similar situations. The house in Safiya’s dreams is crumbling and appears to build itself up which every “clue” from her mother’s past that she uncovers. The whole experience is described through the metaphor of a game where the player has to work through the levels by solving the mysteries in order to get to the boss level which is presented as a locked door which her grown up mother is behind. Safiya becomes unable to focus on anything but working out what the next piece is by trawling through her mother’s flat in the hopes of finding something she doesn’t even know she’s looking for. Grief and the possibility of loss is something that leaves people feeling completely helpless, willing to do anything to feel like they can shift the tide and fix things in some way. For Safiya, she feels it’s building up this image of a past life as she begins to see the younger version of her mother outside of dreams. Through this “game” she learns more about her mother’s history and how they are far more alike than she previously thought.

I adore books that have a magical element to them but it’s not entirely clear whether the magic is real or not. It leaves so much to be explored through interpretation and I think it will be exciting to see what other readers take away from the story.

Aisha Bushby has an amazing way of using visuals to illustrate her points. From the video game metaphor, to describing intense emotion as “party poppers in my chest.” It’s a collection of images I would have never thought up on my own but just completely fit every single time.

A Pocketful of Stars is beyond any words I could possibly use to describe it. I wish I could hand out bottles full of the emotions I had upon finishing because words just cannot do this book justice.

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Posted in fantasy, lgbt, review, young adult

The Red Scrolls Of Magic – Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

“It’s a classic love story. I hit on him at a party, he asked me out, then we fought an epic magical battle between good and evil side by side, and now we need a vacation.”

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Blurb: “All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke. Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage.”

There have been many times where I have expressed my distaste for authors who put out endless books, adding aspects to a universe that don’t really need it. But when it comes to Cassandra Clare, quite frankly I’m a hypocrite. When I heard the news that a brand new series following Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood and their disappearance during City Of Fallen Angels I knew I was going to devour it.

As always, there’s enough room to enter the Shadowhunter world without prior knowledge as little kernels are scattered throughout to explain who characters are, but I feel that if you haven’t at least read The Mortal Instruments series that not only are you going to be spoiled for events from it, but you also miss out on that emotional weight of what has happened and how it affects the current timeline.

In the acknowledgements, Cassandra Clare talks about how her books (in particular The Bane Chronicles) have been banned from LGBT themes and how her friends found few books growing up where their sexuality was represented. This led her to make the character of Magnus Bane so unapolegetically open of his relationships with both men and women. Magnus Bane was the first bisexual character I came across in literally, at a time when I wasn’t really open myself, and seeing him embrace himself and the fact he openly talked about his male/female relationships meant so much to me.

The Red Scrolls Of Magic sees Magnus and Alec attempt to take their first romantic vacation together. It feels so relatable in the sense of an early relationship as the duo are new and only just starting to work each other out without scaring the other off. Alec comes from a repressed society where being gay is enough to get a Shadowhunter stripped of their runes, while Magnus is incredibly flamboyant and would quite literally give Alec the entire world if he could figure out exactly how to do that. Of course, this is a Shadowhunter story so things do not go to plan.

One thing I love about Cassandra Clare’s books is that you can never predict where the plot is going to lead. Every time a building exploded or a demon appeared I was freaking out because I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. On top of all of this, there’s the rise of a demon worshipping cult known as The Crimson Hand and all roads seem to leave to Magnus. It’s basically romance, action, and an investigation all wrapped up in one book and it works so well.

The only real issue I had with this book is that it’s cowritten in a way where it’s entirely obvious which author wrote these parts. There’s a lot of sections where the grammar is really sloppy and I’m not sure how that was missed in editing, and the way some things are phrased was really jarring and took me out of the story for a moment.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and I came out the other end having an even bigger love for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood than I ever did before.

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