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, 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 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 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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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

“One song is sometimes all it takes. I’ve got one song.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, I’m sure you’re aware of New York Times Best-Selling Author Angie Thomas. Her debut, The Hate U Give is still thriving and even lead to a successful film adaptation.

Her new book, On The Come Up, is an set within the same town of Garden Height as The Hate U Give and while there are many nods to it, this story is its own entity. The reader is introduced to Bri: a teenage girl who is trying to break onto the rap scene. Given all the expectations already placed on her because of her race, music is the one aspect of her life that Bri feels she can fully control.

Bri focuses a lot on the outside elements that directly led to the people in her life being led down the wrong paths. For example, if a drug dealer hadn’t sold to Bri’s mother, she wouldn’t have become an addict. She’s sick of everything already being decided about who she is and what she should do and it takes a while in the story for Bri to finally come out and say it. The moments when she opens up about being a “race poster girl” and being vulnerable are beautiful parts to see.

Angie Thomas has a truly incredible way of writing characters and every single one of them has so much personality that it’s almost impossible to believe they’re not real people. They all have so much energy  and I think a lot of this comes from the brilliant audiobook narration from Bahni Turpin.

My knowledge of rap lies solely in the musical Hamilton so it was really fun and fascinating to see the rap battles (one of which is my favourite scenes in the book) and to learn how rap songs are constructed, especially when it’s on the fly. A big bonus of the audiobook is that Bahni Turpin actually raps the lyrics which added so much to the experience especially when it came to the rhythm which is something I feel is lost to the readers who opt for the book in a written form.

Angie Thomas has delivered another incredible book and I cannot wait to see what else comes from her brain.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Girls With Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

“You are perfection personified,” she continues, “and we must ask that you act like it.”

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Blurb:”The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.”

[AD – GIFTED]

Trigger Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, gore.

Innovations Academy requires girls to work towards being the perfect sponsorship investment upon their graduation. Their diets are strict (no additives in their own meals but they must learn how to cook a hearty flavourful meal for a future husband), dating is strictly forbidden, no access to the internet because their future sponsor/husband will give them all the relevant news information they need. They’re not allowed to leave the property except for the very rare trips to the town where their movements are carefully monitored.

The protagonist, Philomena, is coming to the end of her time at the academy but feels her opinions of the teachings she’s been given start to waver after bumping into a boy called Jackson at a gas station. He’s completely different to what she’s been trained to believe boys and men act like and suddenly everything is under a magnifying glass. For the majority of this book, Philomena was difficult for me to get behind because she didn’t have much personality. However, I think this is more the fault of the situation she’s in than her exclusively as a character because once she starts to pick apart what’s really going on she becomes a much more well-rounded character and I was rooting for her by the end.

It’s a very quiet, slow book but when it hits that climax I was unable to process what was happening. The inner workings of this place are something I never saw coming and it was refreshing to read a YA book of this ilk that had something completely different in that big reveal.

There’s some LGBT representation as two of the girls are in a secret lesbian relationship and while this is mentioned briefly, it’s more of a sideline thing to show some girls doing the opposite of what they’re being told and it would have been nice to see this get played out more.

My favourite scene in the book was when the girls get their hands on a women’s magazine and start reading an article about how to work out if you’re good at oral sex or not. It was a little bit of exposure to a world they didn’t know existed and it was so funny.

Girls With Sharp Sticks shows the importance of friendship, the power of literature and taking back what was once taken from you.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Every Heart A Doorway – Seanan McGuire

“Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

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Blurb:”Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.”

Nancy is one of many children who have opened up doors and found themselves in another world. After being spat out out of a universe in which death surrounds her, she is now expected to return to life as normal and forget everything she uncovered. Sadly, it’s not that easy and her parents ship her off to the Wayward Home for Children; which is basically a sanatorium for girls in similar situations.

Every Heart A Doorway has incredible set up and the information being delivered through dialogue not only prevents heavy exposition dumps, but gives room for readers to feel out this new place along with the protagonist. As children start to turn up dead I was just hooked on all the possible ways this story could go. It does have very gory moments that feel played up very much for shock value until the threads start to tie together and the relevance of the horror emerges.

This book gave me serious Coraline and Miss Peregrine vibes because every girl in the home is adapting to the “real world” again after coming back from a door, and it had this creepy air of mystery and dark magic to it.

The only grievance I really had was that the story is too short. It feels almost like a short story than a full length book and it reached its peak just as it ended. I would have liked more time to flesh out the surrounding characters and learn more about them as the ones that were given backstories were super interesting.

Every Heart A Doorway is equal parts creepy and intriguing but will keep you in its clutches until the final page.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan

“My dream was to one day work at NASA. I knew it was a long shot, but I liked a challenge.”

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.”

Trigger warnings: homophobia, physical and emotional abuse, rape and sexual assault.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a book that I clicked with instantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint the thread that had me turning page after page with no sign of stopping. Sabina Khan does a fantastic job of explaining Rukhsana’s life and dropping the reader into an incredibly important period: the all-too familiar final school year before college. Rukhsana is already facing a tremendous amount of pressure and as a Muslim daughter of Bengali parents, she’s also battling the expectations that she should be married off as soon as possible. Despite the fact that she has just secured a scholarship at her dream school and also she’s a lesbian. It was wonderful to go through this story with an already established gay relationship and the scenes with Rukhsana and Ariana were so heart-warming to read as they were just so comfortable in each other’s company; the love felt real.

I expected a turn to happen in this book when Rukhsana’s parents finally found out about the relationship but I didn’t expect them to go to the extremes they did. I gasped, cried, and recoiled at many of the scenes that unfolded as a result of a parent’s desperate attempts to control their child. This shift provided the stark reminder that, while society is becoming more liberal and accepting, there are still places in the world where being gay can result in death, and that there is an older generation clinging to their religious beliefs so tightly that they are willing to let their children suffer greatly as a consequence.

An unexpected aspect was the Grandma’s role in the story. She is one of the few people accepting of Rukhsana’s love life because she has experienced times in her own life where she was beaten down and forced into a box. Her narrative, through both dialogue and diary pages, shows what can happen when someone chooses to conform to what is expected of them. It’s almost a lose-lose situation. This part of the narrative is where it gets quite dark and triggering which is why I’ve applied the aforementioned warnings at the start of this review.

The Love And Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a story about fighting for who you love, and who you want to be, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Last Bus To Everland – Sophie Cameron

“I think we’re not in the real world any more.”

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Blurb: “Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants. Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.”

[Ad – Gifted]

I adored Sophie Cameron’s debut Out Of The Blue and so when Macmillan sent me an advanced copy of her new book, I was over the moon.

Everland is a secret world beyond a door that appears at 11:21pm every Thursday and the protagonist, Brody, happens upon it after a chance meeting with wing-wearing Nico. This new location has everything you can possibly think of and is full of people from all around the world. It’s a place that will surely appeal to fans of readers who dream of abandoning the every day for a bit of magic just within their grasp. While Everland was what initially drew me to this book, it’s not what ended up holding my interest. The mantle goes to Brody himself.

Brody is a gay – not out yet- boy who is bullied at his school, under-performing and always second to his intelligent “soon to be a Cambridge student” brother, with a dad suffering from agoraphobia and a mother working all hours to make ends meet. If anything, the discovery of Everland becomes a lifeline for him. But for six days a week he is forced to live this version of his life.

Last Bus To Everland tackles dealing with a relative who has a mental illness, the pressures of under-achieving as well as over-achieving, and poverty. I expected this book to be heavily set in Everland and that was not the case. Everland is almost that physical manifestation of wanting to get away: its inhabitants are all facing issues in their lives and Everland provides that place to escape everything, while also proving that you can leave your problems behind, but they’ll always be waiting when you get back. I love that this aspect gave the platform to round out why all the characters came to this magical place and what led them to discover it in the first place.

Brody is a character that I just felt so much for. I wanted to climb into the pages and give him a hug along with having a stern word with the bullies. He struggles a lot with the weight of the future and feels very much alone: something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with.

Sophie Cameron is a gem of an author. While her story concepts have brought me to both of her books now, it is ultimately the characters I leave thinking about for weeks after.

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