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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Posted in adult fiction, review, romance

When The Curtain Falls – Carrie Hope Fletcher

“A certain kind of magic is born when the curtain rises. Intoxicated by the smell of the greasepaint and powered by the glow of the footlights, lovers successfully elope, villains get their just deserts and people die in epic stunts and yet live to tell the tale.”

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Blurb: “In 1952 two young lovers meet, in secret, at the beautiful Southern Cross theatre in the very heart of London’s West End. Their relationship is made up of clandestine meetings and stolen moments because there is someone who will make them suffer if he discovers she is no longer ‘his’. But life in the theatre doesn’t always go according to plan and tragedy and heartache are waiting in the wings for all the players . . .”

Almost seventy years later, a new production of When the Curtain Falls arrives at the theatre, bringing with it Oscar Bright and Olive Green and their budding romance. Very soon, though, strange things begin to happen and they learn about the ghost that’s haunted the theatre since 1952, a ghost who can only be seen on one night of the year.

Told through Past and Present narratives, the reader learns of the great tragedy that befell Fawn Burrows during a performance of When The Curtain Falls and things turned out that way. In the present, the production has been rebooted and the leads Oliver and Oscar are unable to ignore the ghostly happenings plaguing their rehersals. I can’t remember if I’ve ever read a book set in a theatre and, as someone who goes to the theatre often, this was a nice,refreshing change of scenery. Alongside that, as Carrie Hope Fletcher is well known for her acting roles, the book reads like she is very much in her comfort zone.

I liked the feeling of things coming full circle: Fawn and Walter’s love story and how in ways it mirrors Olive and Oscar as the show gets underway. There are themes of self worth and stength littered through the story well.

However, those are the only good things I really have to say. The initial premise had me intrigued but I’ve had an issue with every single one of Carrie’s fiction books. Her characters never seem to grab me and *When The Curtain Falls* is no different. I’ve discovered that my main grievance is with her actual writing style and that is not as easily solved as a different plot. There’s one chapter set in the past which reveals the exact details of that aforementioned tragic event and then the chapter following it is a present day where Walter reveals the details to Oscar of what we’ve just seen. Which seemed a really odd choice but I guess the true drama of the book would have been fine if the former was removed.

I think, overall, that Carrie’s books are just not for me.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

“Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.”

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Blurb: “Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.”

Note: I am aware that as a white reviewer I have privilege and can’t fairly comment on the racial aspects of this book. Any Own Voices reviews are greatly appreciated and I will add them here.

In an attempt to “examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings”, Nic Stone began writing her debut after seeing the responses to the real-life shooting of unarmed African American teenagers.

Dear Martin follows high school senior Justyce McAllister who starts to question his racial identity after spending three hours in handcuffs for something he didn’t do. Classroom discussions and societal stereotypes come to the forefront of his attention more than they did before. When introduced to a gang, he identifies them as “the ones that make us look bad” and starts to worry more about everything he has to lose.

The book flits around different formats from more script based interactions for the classroom discussions, to prose for present happenings, to the letters. It’s the latter that really stood out to me. Letter writing to someone who won’t read the letters, especially an idol, can be so cathartic and it seems to work for the protagonist. While Justyce feels like he must remain silent in his daily life, especially when topics of equality come up, his letters to Martin Luther King are raw and unfiltered; it’s in these moments that it feels like the reader get the “real” Justyce.

The media fallout following another shooting by a police officer mimics what readers see too often in the real world and the predictability of questions thrown in front of Justyce are predictable and not surprising.

It was interesting to have the white male character, Jared, who starts off as someone who “doesn’t see colour” and truly be lives society is equal start to shift with the events of the book, to the point where he starts to acknowledge his privilege and own up to things he’s said and done in the past. Which is the kind of person I think all of those in a similar positon to him should be trying to do in our own lives.  Alongside this is a white girl called SJ who acknowledges her position from the start but speaks out on important issues and also helps lift up and push Justyce to the front as his voice is more important.

I found it thought-provoking that Dear Martin didn’t just focus on what it means to be a black boy in society, but how that transends into older age: The dad of Justyce’s best friend, Manny, talks about how he has a position of power at his current employment and yet his white colleagues still look down to him or refuse to answer his requests. All of which prompts the further questions in Justyce’s mind of “is this my life now?”

This book can seem almost simple at points. Like I mentioned earlier, certain chapters are just listed dialogue between characters and it feels very reserved in places, but a lot of this is down to it being a lot shorter than I expected. But it still leaves your heart aching at the end. In just over 200 pages, Dear Martin has the reader in the palm of its hand with a protagonist to root for from the very first page, until the very end. My only wish is that it was longer.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

The Death Cure – James Dashner

“It’s a very old axiom, but do you believe the end can justify the means? When there’s no choice left?”

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Blurb: “WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.”

Brief Note: I am aware of certain allegations and I addressed these in a blog post. That is the last I will say on it

The Death Cure is, admittedly, a book that I’ve abandoned in the past. So when I came to the decision to revisit this series, I knew that the best way to go about it was to read all of the books back to back (hence why you’re receiving an onslaught of Maze Runner content, sorry).

For the past two books, the questions and tension have continued to grow to an unbearable level and, in this final part, finally explode with epic action and many instances that may cause readers to throw the book across the room in fear. There are a lot of moments where finally getting those well-needed answers left me just wishing I’d never found out the truth.

The question of Wicked being good once again comes to the forefront as the characters continue to learn more about the world and how much power this corporation actually holds. It creates an interesting grey area as more facts about the epidemic begin to emerge and I just love complex aspects that can be unpacked; I guess it’s one of the reasons that I find Teresa interesting and irritating in equal measure.

I found it fascinating seeing more of the world just outside Wicked’s front door and how the group seem to turn a blind eye to all the people needing their help and how the city tossed the infected out to a place full of cranks known as “the crank palace.” (Which is definitely a place I would do my best to avoid!)

I adore the focus on friendships in this series and how close the characters become despite the horrible situation they’ve been forced into. My personal favourites are Minho and Thomas – how they work together to lead the others but never fight to be the one leading – and Thomas and Newt – where you get the real sense of “I would do anything for this person.”

Thomas is unlike most protagonists I’ve come across in YA dystopian because he is flawed: the first time he kills someone really stays with him and every person he loses because of his bad decision continues to weigh him down. He is very much aware that his friends are blindly following him unaware that he has no real plan or idea where he’s taking them. His narrative is heart-breaking to read at times when he reminisces on his choices and looks at what his possible future might be. The reader is really able to feel-and connect to the pain- in a lot of ways that other books in this genre seem to miss the mark with.

Overall, I think I actually prefer the films to the books (I know that I sacrilege as a book blogger). I just feel that the ideas outweigh the execution and that the adaptations – while going very much off course of the source material – take the story in a much better direction.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Orangeboy – Patrice Lawrence

“Orangeboy. Mr Orange.” She lay my phone next to the blackberry. “What the hell have you got yourself into?”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Marlon has made his mum a promise – he’ll never follow his big brother, Andre, down the wrong path. So far, it’s been easy, but when a date ends in tragedy, Marlon finds himself hunted. They’re after the mysterious Mr Orange, and they’re going to use Marlon to get to him.”

There has been a lot of buzz about this book. From overwhelmingly positive review to winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize at the start of this year, everyone seems to have fallen in love with Orangeboy. As I keep saying, I am very hit-and-miss when it comes to Young Adult Contemporary. But after reading Kate (Reading Through Infinity)’s review I decided to give it a go.

The location is Hackney, London. The story follows a boy called Marlon who feels like he’s struck gold when he’s on a date with the beautiful Sonya. They take drugs and have fun at the fairground until the night ends in tragedy and Marlon finds himself at a police station.

What took me by surprise is that this book became about more than the initial plot point and the reader is taken deep into a drug empire fuelled by guns, violence and the need for revenge. Marlon is blamed for the things his brother – Andre – did which reinforces the point that our actions affect other people in our lives.

It was nice to have a diverse novel set in Britain, especially in a multi-cultural city like London and it showed a part of it that’s not normally seen. It was dark and gritty which it needed to be for this story to really make an impact.

However, the ending was a bit of a let-down. It felt like the story was slowly building and then it was just over. But overall, I can see why many love this book.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Noah Can’t Even – Simon James Green

“Screw it all. He was going to be normal. He was going to do normal things. Be a normal boy. That would show his mum! It was the night of the party. And he was going to kiss Sophie.”

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Blurb: “Poor Noah Grimes! His father disappeared years ago, his mother’s Beyonce tribute act is an unacceptable embarrassment, and his beloved gran is no longer herself. He only has one friend, Harry, and school is…Well, it’s pure HELL. Why can’t Noah be normal, like everyone else at school? Maybe if he struck up a romantic relationship with someone – maybe Sophie, who is perfect and lovely – he’d be seen in a different light? But Noah’s plans are derailed when Harry kisses him at a party. That’s when things go from bad to utter chaos.

I first heard about this book because of an interview Amber at the milelongbookshelf did with the author on her channel. The pair discussed the lack of British LGBT books and why it’s great that Simon’s is exactly that. So when release day rolled around I was very quick to get a copy.

Noah Can’t Even follows a sixteen year old boy called Noah who is the bottom of the school food chain. His dad is missing, his mum is a total embarrassment and after an unfortunate incident in P.E, he’s soon to be the laughing stock of the school. Noah just wants to be normal and when he’s paired up with the gorgeous Sophie on his Geography project, he sees this as his opportunity to win her affections. It’s all going well until he ends up kissing his best friend, Harry, at a party and the school bully turns out to have video evidence of it and he isn’t afraid to start passing it around.

There have been many discussions about Young Adult books feeling like they’re the “older teens” rather than actual teenagers but this isn’t one of those books. Noah feels like a real teenager from the awkward interactions to the ridiculous internal monologue throughout. It’s cringy, embarrassing and downright hilarious. It’s one of those books where I was laughing out loud and even after finishing, when reminded of certain scenes, I found myself laughing again.

It’s a brilliant coming-of-age story about exploring your sexuality and while there isn’t a bisexual character present, bisexuality is frequently mentioned in such a normal way and that is a beautiful thing to see. It’s great to see bisexuality be normalised and becoming more present within LGBT Young Adult books.

It blows my mind that this is a debut because it’s so well put together. I cannot wait to see what Simon James Green comes out with next!

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Coral And Bone – Tiffany Daune

“Every day is filled with impossibility, until you have chosen to see the possible. Once you make the shift to see, life is a less frightening journey.”

 

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Blurb: “Halen knows the sparks igniting under her fingertips are dangerous. She has spent her entire life trying to quell the tingly feelings that make her destroy things, but now that she is back in Rockaway Beach, where she watched her father drown, the flames have become impossible to tame. Halen is trying to hold on, but when she is thrust into a mysterious new world, the underwater realm of Elosia, she unravels the secrets of her past and can’t help but ignite.”

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

Coral and Bone follows a girl called Halen who moved back to Rockaway Beach a few years after the death of her father. Halen’s mother hopes returning will bring them solace and the strength to move on with their lives, but Halen has started hearing things that no one else can and the ability to produce sparks from her fingers. When a stranger rescues Halen from a swarm of mermaids, she learns more about her life than she never knew possible.

There are many books I read where the characters outweigh the plot and this is one of them. While the plot is fascinating and unravelled in ways I never could’ve predicted, Halen is very much the driving force of this novel. At the start of the books there is an illustration of her which just made the character feel more real in my mind. The actions and choices she made throughout the story felt like ones a real person would make and I found it so incredibly easy to latch onto her along this adventure.

The world and backstories were delivered through dialogue which stopped the book from falling into info-dump territory which happens all too easily in fantasy/folklore based novels. Also I am a complete sucker for the “training trope” so when there were scenes where Halen was learning to control and harness her powers I was practically jumping up and down with excitement.

The only downside is that frankly the mermaids weren’t around often enough. I would have loved to see more of them.

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Posted in review, young adult

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your Grandma, not your Dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”

 

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Blurb: “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.”

A Monster Calls is an original idea from author Siobhan Dowd who sadly died before she got the chance to write it. Leaving behind some of the framework and a beginning, Patrick Ness took the project on board as a tribute to her, adding his own flare in the process. Accompanied by illustrations from Jim Kay (illustrator for the illustrated Harry Potter editions) any reader who picks up this book is in for an emotional rollercoaster.

The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy called Conor who is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness. One night, a monster shows up at his house and says that he will tell Conor three stories and, once he is finished, Conor must reveal a story of truth in return.

At its core, this is a story about grief, sorrow and denial. Conor floats through the story, isolated from his peers at school and having to endure constant sympathy from his teachers, all while having to deal with one fundamental fact that he can’t admit to himself: his mother isn’t getting better.

The contents of this novel will resonate with anyone who’s experienced losing a loved one and while some of the writing can feel simplistic at times given the subject matter, it really does pack a punch and the addition of the illustration feels like someone has reached into your chest and began twisting your heart. It’s impossible not to sympathise with, and understand, Conor’s intentions and his actions, especially when the only friend he has to turn to is a monster disguised as a tree in his garden.

A Monster Calls is a fundamentally heart-breaking, tender and complex book and by gosh it’s one you should read.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

“The frame around which one builds one’s life in a brittle thing, and in a city of souls connected one snapped beam can threaten the spikes and shadows of the skyline.”

 

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Blurb: “Maureen didn’t mean to kill a man, but what can a poor dear do when she’s surprised by an intruder and has only a holy stone to hand? Lucky that she’s just reconnected with her estranged son Jimmy because, as the most feared gangster in Cork, he certainly had the tools to sort out the mess. So Jimmy enlists his boyhood buddy Tony who, with six kids and a love of the bottle, could certainly do with the money, even if his teenage son, Ryan, is far too keen to grow up so he can become a gangster himself. And all is going to plan until Georgie, the girlfriend of the hapless intruder, starts to wonder where he went…”

For the past few years I have followed the Bailey’s Women’s Prize from the longlist, to the shortlist and then to the winner. However, I have never actually taken the step to read them. This year there was a wonderful sounding collection of books up for the title and The Glorious Heresies was crowned the winner.

If you frequent my blog or have seen my shelves on Goodreads, then you know that this book isn’t the kind of thing I normally read. But I tried to go into it with an open mind after my disastrous attempt at reading a wider range of fiction this year.

The story follows a group of characters all linked in some way to a man who is accidently killed when he intrudes on someone’s home. The person who dealt the unexpected blow is a woman called Maureen who enlists the help of her gangster son, Jimmy, to deal with the body. Jimmy turns to one of his inner circle, Tony, to help him. Tony’s son, Ryan, wants to grow up and become a gangster like his father and frequently deals drugs to a selection of contacts he had. The woman next door, Tara, isn’t privy to keeping her mouth shut, much to Jimmy’s annoyance. To make matters worse, Georgie, the girlfriend of the man Maureen killed, has started to look for answers.

I expected the murder to happen right at the start which it doesn’t; it’s a few pages in. Initially this threw me off but as I delved further into the story, it became clear that while the body is the factor that links them together, the plot itself is more so about the characters. Lisa McInerney had created a group of characters that are meant to be inherently unlikeable yet through her writing choices, it becomes easy to find them fascinating and at some parts, actually start to feel sorry for them. For me, the character of Tony was one I couldn’t stand yet as his arc progressed I found myself caring more about him than any other characters I crossed paths with on this journey.

The Glorious Heresies is so beautifully constructed that even the stagnant parts of their book still hold your interest. Definitely worthy of being a prize winner.

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