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 discussion

Why I Love Audiobooks

“Some critics — the always tiresome Harold Bloom among them — claim that listening to audiobooks isn’t reading. I couldn’t disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading.” – Stephen King

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As UK print sales continue to slowly dwindle, and audio sales continue to soar, there’s no denying it: people are changing the way they read. With so many audiobook specialist services cropping up, and Audible famously dominating the market, the exclusivity from these platforms has listeners old and new spoiled for choice.

Audiobooks have a childhood nostalgia for me. My main exposure to them was having the bulky CD boxes stuffed in the glove compartment on a long car journey for the school holidays. Normally they’d be the latest Artemis Fowl or something of a similar ilk. More often than not I’d sit in the back of the car reading along with the book as the narrator weaved the story. I lost touch over the years with the format, but more recently, I’ve fallen back in love with them.

However, with the rising popularity comes a lot of criticism. With columnists rising in their droves to label people who listen to audiobooks as “lazy”, I thought I’d take some time to talk about why I love the format so much.

ACCESSIBILITY

Did you know that audiobooks were initially created for blind readers? It’s true! In the 1930s they were known as “talking books” and growing technology allowed them to be distributed in cassette form. While mass consumption over the years has allowed for more investment and innovation, it’s important to remember the origins and the history being attacked when those choose to voice their distaste of the format. For some story lovers, there isn’t the option to just “pick up a real book.” Reading is inclusive in so many ways and we should champion that rather than trying to score points.

CONVENIENCE

Yes, I’m following up with something immediately counteracting previous points.  While I truly miss the endless days when I could be snuggled up on the sofa for hours on end reading, the reality of adult life means that sometimes other things need to take bigger priority. As a result, often when I have that time to read I’m just too tired to focus on the words. I recently did a blog post about how my reading has changed and how my main source of reading is audio based. If it wasn’t for this format, I would not be reading now. In a full time office job I can fly through many books while going about my daily business without feeling the guilt of missing out on new stories.

“Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice.” – Stephen King

LISTENING IS MAGIC

There’s something about listening to a story being told that adds this special feeling that I just cannot really explain. If it’s a beautifully poetic book like Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, the words have so much more weight to them. I often find I can appreciate the writing style of books even more when the narrator delivers the lines.

NARRATORS

The worth of a good narrator is completely underestimated. Services like Audible are bringing in big names such as Michael Sheen to tell their stories. For me, the person telling the story is massively important. If I can’t gel with the narrator, it’s easy to miss out on what could have been a really enjoyable book. But getting the narrator that you can just tell is as invested in the plot as you can make for an incredible experience. A big stand out for me was the cast for The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo. My heart still aches with so much love for that production. I’ve even found myself seeking books outside of my usual reading tastes just because it’s a narrator I’ve previously loved.

What’s your preferred reading format?
If it’s audiobooks, what are some of your favourite of the year so far?

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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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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 Charlotte Writes Things, Uncategorized

Charlotte Writes Things | Author Inspirations – V.E.Schwab

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I think you could ask pretty much anyone who their “role model” is and they would have an answer. It could be a family member, a friend, a celebrity. Some may even have one from childhood and a different one now they have more of an adult perspective to grasp onto the world with. I’ve had many. I almost like to hord them as if they are trinkets from different parts of my past. When it comes to writing, the person I look up to the most is V.E.Schwab.

V.E.Schwab is a New York Times Best-selling author. She’s written Adult Fantasy, YA paranormal, graphic novels, children’s ghost stories but her very obvious success isn’t what draws me to her. Like many readers, my adventures with her stories began with A Darker Shade Of Magic and when I listened to her interview on the podcast 88 Cups Of Tea, she talked about how she had been told by those in the publishing industry to be less open about what it’s actually like to be in it. She responded to this by saying that it didn’t feel right to sugarcoat her experiences and act like, just because she got that book deal, her life is all sunshine and flowers.

I adore her honesty. She admits how hard touring is on her mental health and how it adds pressure to looming deadlines even though she very much loves meeting her readers. When it comes to drafting a new book, she talks openly about her struggles and how often she needs to remind herself that it’s all one big process and baby steps still get you closer to the end. She dishes out advice and it always seems to pop up on my Twitter timeline when I’m having the worst day and want to throw my laptop out of the window in the hopes that a passing car on the street runs it over.

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It’s a reminder that even the greats – the authors that have made incredible impacts in the writing world – are just as human as the rest of us. They have to work through the same fears and problems that those of us aspiring authors do every day. V.E.Schwab has spoken about how, even with her raging success, she’s still had rejections for pitch ideas. Other big fantasy authors such as Neil Gaiman have said that their biggest fear is a blank page. No one is immune from this experience and I admire her so much for standing up and saying “hey guys, this is really hard and you know what? It doesn’t get any easier.”

Do you have any writing inspirations?

Do you have any writing mantras you turn to when having a bad day?

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 Charlotte Writes Things, Uncategorized

Charlotte Writes Things | Taking A Break

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap stuff and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.” – Octavia E. Butler

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I am always doing something. More often than not, I’m multi-tasking too. When I wrote the notes that would become this blog post, I was watching a movie. While writing these very words, I am catching up on the latest episode of Jane The Virgin. I fill up my time with so many things that often I double up just to get through it all. This often leads to burning myself out. Which is the position I’ve found myself in with my latest project.

I’ve mentioned before about the little targets I set myself but those writing sessions only go so far when the story itself isn’t working. I’ve spent the past month jumping around the timeline to bits I feel like I’m ready to work on only to hit wall after wall.

So I’ve taken the hardest decision of all: taking a break. It’s not often talked about because writing is often seen as a rush to a metaphorical finish line, but taking time away from a project is just as important as working day in and day out on it. For now, this story needs that breathing space and I need to take the time to rest a little and recover.

It’s easy to feel guilty about it. It’s very difficult to do and I think almost every day about whether it is the right decision or not. But I need to stick to it. How long will the break be? I don’t know. Will I ever return to this project? I don’t know. And I’m starting to learn that it’s alright. Slowly but surely. This project, or whatever I move on to next, will be worth it for the time out I take right now.

Have you ever taken a break?

Do you feel guilt for not writing?

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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