Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Starfish – Akemi Dawn Bowman

“Don’t live to please the starfish, especially when their happiness is at the expense of yours. That is not love. That is narcissism. There’s an entire ocean out there kiko, swim in it.”

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Blurb: “Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.”

Trigger warnings: talks of a suicide attempt, racism, emotional abuse.

Kiko is a character that I found to be very relatable: she’s incredibly anxious, channels all of her emotions into creative pursuits, is desperate to prove herself, and feels like she is solely identified by her connections to other people (for example, “friend of…”). On a side I can’t relate to, she is mixed race – part Japanese- and faces a lot of racism throughout the course of the book, primarily from her own mother.

The crux of the story is really centered around Kiko’s relationship with her mother which is incredibly mentally abusive. Her mother is dismissive, demanding, clearly disgusted by Kiko’s dreams or art school and her general facial features which she reiterates that Kiko got from her father. It is incredibly rage inducing to read at times and I felt just as suffocated as the character. The narrative plays into the idea of “what ifs” by certain interactions with the mother being followed by “what I wish I’d said” and “what I actually said.” I loved this element as, again, it’s incredibly relatable. So many people have experienced that hindsight of wishing they could stand up for themselves but instead choosing to stay quiet. Another narrative decision I adored is that every chapter ends with Kiko drawing, and each piece that she works on provides some overall framing for the events of the chapter, showing how she is physically channeling her experiences and emotions into art.

The introduction of Jamie, a boy from his early years, gives Kiko a positive space to grow as a character and also provides the reassurance she needs that what her mother is doing to her is wrong.

Kiko’s growth over the book is astounding and the way she begins to stand up for herself is something that I hope inspires teens, who feel like they are in a similar situation, to stand up and fight.

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Posted in discussion

When A Book From Your Favourite Author Misses The Mark

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We all have writers that we’d die for. We spend hours in queues with armful books waiting for that memorable encounter, we buy endless editions of their books, feel close to them on social media platforms. But what happens when you don’t like a book from them?

Learning as much as I have over the past few years about the best ways to support authors, it’s no surprise that number one is… actually buying their books. I’ve had many instances of starting a new book from an author I love with every fibre of my being, only to really not enjoy it at all. I’ve watched all the five star ratings roll in feeling like I’ve completely missed something, when really it was just the simple fact that the story wasn’t for me. Big name authors are not exempt from this: every book from F.Scott Fitzgerald that isn’t The Great Gatsby, V.E.Schwab’s This Savage Song, even The Magisterium Series which is co-written by Cassandra Clare hasn’t managed to avoid this issue.

I did a whole separate blog post about how even old favourites have fallen prey to this revelation. Books that I once screamed from the rooftops about are now stuck with 3 star ratings, others I couldn’t finish because I didn’t want my old memories of them to be sullied by my lack of enjoyment.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that the way to show the authors I love how much they mean to me is by… well… what I’m doing right now: talking about them and promoting them at every opportunity. Because if I love them, there’s sure to be other readers out there that will too.

Are there any books from beloved authors that you didn’t like? Are there any you wish you loved because of the hype?

Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

“Turns out the sadness that silence from the person you love brings can be temporarily erased by the dull thrill of attention from strangers.”

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Blurb: “Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”

Trigger warnings: sexual assault and violence, domestic abuse, racism, panic attacks.

I found out about this book through listening to the author on an episode of the Mostly Lit podcast and what initially attracted me to it was the fact that it follows a black woman in her mid-twenties. More often than not there’s a gap in this area of the market so I jumped at the chance to read it.

Queenie opens with the protagonist, of the same name, getting a smear test. Instantly relatable to any person with a vagina at this age. Very quickly it becomes clear that this character is facing several crossroads the main one being that her relationship with her white boyfriend, Tom, has fallen apart after an encounter with his racist family. Queenie can be a very difficult character to like as she spirals and willingly puts herself in a lot of dark and troubling situations; rejecting any attempts at help laid out in front of her. She enters worrying territory and doesn’t really begin to accept or process what she did and what she let happen until her body begins to feel the effects. She is called out by many characters in the text, and eventually seeks therapy, but there was something about the unexpected routes that has left me wondering whether I actually enjoyed this book by the end of it.

The audiobook, narrated by Shvorne Marks, was great because she used different voices for the characters and breathed so much personality into the side characters. I’d love to listen to more audiobooks narrated by her.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Tunnel Of Bones – Victoria Schwab

“You are my best friend. In life, in death, and everything else in between.”

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Blurb: “Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.”

The sequel to City Of Ghosts sees protagonist Cassidy Blake doing more ghost hunting, but this time things are getting even more dangerous. The series as a whole gives me immense Coraline vibes and does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery and downright creepiness of the situations. Unlike its predecessor, Tunnel Of Bones takes place in Paris which feels like a breath of fresh air, and also opens up ghostly happenings to the rest of the world which I only hope continues with future books.

Victoria Schwab has a fantastic talent for descriptions and visuals. She weaves aspects together in such a way where they are detailed, unique and incredibly distinctive. Everything just clicks together and fits perfectly.

Of course, every book needs a menace to overthrow and in this one, it’s a pretty nasty poltergeist. The mystery and tension around him is unbearable at many points and he defies everything that both Cassidy and the reader has learned about how the veil world works so far.

The absolute gem of this story is Cassidy and Jacob’s relationship and how it continues to grow and flourish. Their lives are so woven and interconnected and I have so many fears for the future. But for now, I will enjoy the wonders of their friendship.

Tunnel Of Bones shows that Victoria Schwab continues to grow as an author and is one that we are very, very lucky to have.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Rebel – S.M.Wilson

“But Lincoln knew that while there might be the chance of fertile land, more space and more food on Piloria, it all came at a cost. A cost he’d witnessed. Could humans and dinosaurs really inhabit the same continent?”

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Blurb: “Storm and Lincoln’s city is burning. The people are starving. The only place left to run is Piloria, the continent of monsters. It’s up to Storm and Lincoln to keep their people alive as they colonize this lethal paradise. But will the biggest threat to their survival be the monsters in the jungle…or the ones inside the encampment with them?”

The Extinction Trials has been a dinosaur filled saga that constantly questions what people are willing to do in order to survive. The final book in this series, The Extinction Trials: Exile, sees the inhabitants of Earthasia face the biggest decision of all: stay here and die, or move to a dinosaur infested island for the chance of a new life.

An interesting aspect to see of this book was the result of people getting a cure for an certain illness. In a world where everything is so heavily restricted I never really thought about the effects fixing a seemingly minor problem would have on the society. The city is even more overcrowded than before and, with the belief dinosaurs are no more, the masses seek to relocate. I thought it was interesting to see this two distinctive continents suddenly be reduced to one and watch the gap continue to grow between those who had been to Piloria before and those who hadn’t. I loved seeing the politics once again start to take over in a new setting as people decided they should remain in charge and essentially just colonise another island when raptors were just having a grand time running around eating people.

One small but unexpected thing I’ve loved consistently throughout this series is the perfect balance between the dual perspectives. Just when I was starting to wonder what Lincoln was doing, I’d turn the page to find his chapters. Also, S.M.Wilson has just a way with visual writing that at times I really felt like I was in Piloria myself.

However, this book really did suffer from “second book syndrome” despite being the finale. At 200 pages in, nothing had really happened and I was starting to wonder if anything ever would. It just didn’t have that push or urgency expected from the last book, and despite loving the first two so much, it was actually a disappointing end. Admittedly, I feel a little cheated.

The Extinction Trials: Exile, fell short of all the promise it had, but overall is a series very worth investing the time into.

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Posted in Charlotte Writes Things

Charlotte Writes Things | Coming Back After A Break

“One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

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While hard to admit, writing breaks are sometimes very much needed. I wrote a  post recently talking about the immense pressure I put on myself when it comes to writing and how, as a result, I hit a massive wall. For the first time in a few weeks I found myself thinking about writing again; thinking about the worlds my mind had created. I felt that itch to return to my stories in a way I hadn’t for such a long time. It felt like an actual want rather than a obligation.

Of course, with the decision to return to writing comes the crippling self doubt. Have I lost my flow? Do I even remember how to write? What if it’s been too long and that spark won’t stay lit for very long? Obviously, it’s important to push those natural feelings aside and remind myself than even the most successful of writers goes through this when starting something new.

The additional issue I have returning after a break is working out exactly where to start. I never immediately go back to the project I was working on. So one of my working progresses is very much shelved into I can work out the knots in the tangled threads. I have many books at various stages and it took a while to work out a course of action. During my break, I received more rejections from agents, so I’ve started reworking my query letter and synopsis along with doing research into more agents I feel could represent me. It’s hard not to constantly think “is this sellable” whenever I’m working on something, but when I start actually writing aspects of one of my stories again I will limit my sprints to 10 minutes rather than 30. Less pressure= more opportunity for success. The less restrictions the better. After the queries are in the wild, I might properly plan my new idea, or just focus on editing to remind myself of my own writing style (you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget your own voice).

So slowly but surely, I’m working my way back. I am nervous but refreshed, and ready to create more magic.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“If she knew how often I was thinking about her, she wouldn’t feel lonely.”

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Blurb: “Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.”

Trigger warnings: drug abuse, addiction, alcoholism, and abortion.

I recently read The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo and absolutely adored it. So when news hit that Taylor Jenkins Reid had a new book on the horizon, of course I was counting down the days.

After the success with my previous audiobook, I decided to pick up this one in the same format. I was not disappointed. There’s a whole cast and it’s absolutely brilliant. Every narrator seemed to know their character so well and conveyed their personalities perfectly. There wasn’t a single weak link; not one voice that put me off when it came to a particular point of view. Much like its predecessor, Daisy Jones & The Six reads as if an interview is being conducted. While listening to the story unfold, I couldn’t help but picture each other the characters sat in a chair talking about their role in this rock band while looking directly into a camera.

While Daisy’s name is in the title, it was the surrounding characters that really captured my attention. Billy, the vocalist of the band, deals heavily with alcohol addiction and he was captivating to listen to. Even though I hated most of what he did in the story, his perspective has left a lasting impression.

While music obviously plays a big part of the story, it was fascinating to see everything behind the scenes from recording studios, to being on the road, to leaving feuds behind when on stage. It’s an incredibly well-rounded story and Taylor Reid Jenkins did a brilliant job of managing all the different plot threads.

It was also so great to see all the female characters in this book fight to stand up for themselves in a male dominated industry.

Daisy Jones & The Six knocked me off my feet and scooped me back up right at the end, giving me lots to think about for a very long time.

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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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