Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

Outgrowing Favourites

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The reason I love books so much is because they’re almost like time capsules. I can take any mound of paper off my shelves and tell you the story behind it. Not just the magic woven into the pages, but my story; the story of who I was when I bought that book, the milestones it marked. The collectors edition of Divergent was a reward to myself for handing my in dissertation which marked the end of my university degree, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story helped me see the light when I didn’t want to live any more, City Of Bones made me realise that writing YA fantasy is where my talents lie. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Like every other reader on the planet, I have favourite books. While I am very much a “I love it or I’m indifferent to it” person when it comes to all types of creative art, when I say a book is my favourite I really mean it with the very core of my being. Those books are have massive sentimental value as well as maybe being a big turning point in a series, or something significant happened that I come back to time and time again only to receive that same joyous rush as if it’s the first time I’m reading it. However, we never stay the same person forever and, as a result, we never stay the same reader. Genres that once enticed us no longer fill up with excitement, plot threads we once loved are now deemed wildly problematic once viewed with an adult perspective. So what happens when books that used to be our favourites no longer are? Trust me, if I’d worked out the solution, I’d be a millionaire from selling vials of the stuff.

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating back to old favourites and then leaving the experiences slightly terrified that they didn’t have the same impact. Shatter Me, which I last read in 2015, I rated 5 stars and boldly claimed it was the best YA dystopian I’d read. Revisiting it recently led me to drop that rating to 3 stars because I just didn’t connect with the story and the characters as much as before. I never understood why non-fans of Cassandra Clare said her writing was so bad in The Mortal Instruments series until I reread City Of Bones and noticed the issues in the writing even though it was her debut and she’s improved dramatically since then. That series has a massive place in my heart because it was the first time I’d seen bisexual representation in a book. It meant the world to me and yet, I don’t think I can ever go back to that particular series. Sure I can consume the new stories, but it won’t be the same for the old. I tried to read The Book Of Lost Things which I’d declared one of my favourite books of all time, only to bow out of it at the 100 page mark because I wasn’t enjoying it anywhere near as much and didn’t want my memories of what it felt like to read it the first time be tainted.

Admittedly, it’s left me afraid to reread any other favourites in case I pick them off one by one. But I guess the empty spaces left behind are opportunities for new books to take over.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Jackpot – Nic Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Infinity Son – Adam Silvera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in adaptations, discussion

I Saw Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

“At it’s heart, we hope that the play reflects the beauty of theatre – the simple art of storytelling in its purest form.”

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[Note: For the sake of #keepthesecrets this is a spoiler free review]

Like pretty much every Harry Potter fan on the planet, when the script was released for the “eighth story”, I drowned in a sea of nostalgia as I sat and consumed the entire thing in the intended four hours. J.K.Rowling had spent many years eluding the character’s fates beyond the historic “nineteen years later” but nothing had ever been imortalised in ink. But after the rush of emotions at new Potter content subsided and I took the time to really process it, I found a lot of issues with it. In fact, I really didn’t like it at all. A lot of things felt cheap to me, like they’d been thrown in for fan service; and I was not alone as many other Potter fans expressed how it felt like fan fiction, while others defended it by saying it was intended to be seen, not read. So I cast it aside, making my jokes here and there, until my friend discovered that the £20 per part tickets I’d thought were tied to the “Friday Fourty” lottery were in fact purchasable through regular means. At £40 in total, despite my reservations, I said yes.

We were fortunate enough to get a two show day, meaning we saw Part One in the afternoon, followed by Part Two in the evening. Cheap seats get you the cheap views, so we were right up the balcony at the very top, with limited leg room and some restricted viewing. It got a tad annoying when people leaned forward for parts of scenes/actor placement at the front of stage and my view became restricted even more, but with the familiarity of the actors voices, and a prior knowledge of the show, I was able to still follow it when they were obscured.

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There are parts of the plot that I fully accept, don’t get me wrong (Harry’s PTSD is dealt with fantastically, Albus dealing with the pressure of a famous father, Albus & Scorpius’ friendship) but many aspects directly damage the original Potter series in terms of the timeline of events. And it’s something I’ve never been quite able to get past.

I tried to put these reservations aside going in because so many people I know who have seen the show said the visuals are incredible. Harry Potter And The Cursed Child has won more awards, just in London alone, than I can count and has been praised endlessly for its technical uses and staging. This love is very much well placed. The stage has to work for TWO separate plays and with the number of sets and plots, it blows my mind that this play does eight shows a week but half of them are different to the others. The magic never felt cheap or overused to satisfy its pre-existing audience; with the use of many familiar spells it felt right at home in the piece. So many scenes and little tricks had my jaw practically on the floor. While the books had your imagination, and the films had magic added in post, stage has nowhere to hide. And minus a very very small number due to the angle of our seats, I am totally convinced it’s all real magic. The technical, stage and visual effects are so expertly done that it’s smooth and slick. The people involved in bringing that to life deserve every good word and possible award. Part of me really wants to know how it was achieved, but the other part of me wants to blissfully continue as if what I witnessed was all real.

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Sadly, I found the acting quite weak. I think a lot of this is to do with the fact that characters such as Harry Potter are so well known through their previous portrayals that, even with new material, its really hard to deviate and put your own spin on it because fans are expecting what they already know. The new characters felt freer because there isn’t anything placed upon them. No one could tell them they’re “doing it wrong” because… well… it’s never been done before. The absolute standout for me in both parts was Jonathan Chase as Scorpius Malfoy. His delivery was just perfect and his timing often had me chuckling away in my seat and he was able to give a convincing emotional performance when needed. He was an absolute delight, but everyone around him just felt a little off.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to experience the story as it was intended to be seen, but it just didn’t make me feel how Potter normally does. I fully appreciate the amount of work, both on and off stage, that goes into continually making this the success it is. The show has no shortage of fans who love it, I just happen to not be one of those people.

Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Again, But Better – Christine Riccio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in 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 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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