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 review, Uncategorized

Virtually Sleeping Beauty – K.M.Robinson

“Find the girl; get out.”

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Blurb: “She may be doing battle in the virtual world, but in the real world, they can’t wake her up.”

K.M.Robinson has become known for fairytale retellings and Virtually Sleeping Beauty is no different. In this novella, she takes another classic tale and, this time, gives it a sci-fi twist.

The story follows Royce who learns that a girl called Rora has been playing the virtual reality game for longer than the allotted time. Becoming the hero, he delves into the universe hoping that he can be the one to break her free.

From the outset, the tension is palpable: there is the real sense that Rora’s life is on the line if the cast of characters don’t work quick to get her out of the game. Given this is a novella, I was glad to see this woven into the plot from the very first page. I thought it was a really interesting choice to tell the story from Royce’s point of view as it made him an onlooker to what Rora had to do due to the limitations of the game; he spends a lot of the story looking on, unable to help. Everything in this novella just seemed to pull together so perfectly that when I turned the page and was met with the acknowledgements, I felt almost cheated.

I did have a few typos in my kindle copy so I wish more time had been taken to make sure these errors weren’t present, and I wish the story was a little more developed as I would’ve liked to see more details and places within the game itself.

But overall, K.M.Robinson adds another marvellous read to her catalogue.

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Posted in discussion

Tag | To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

With a whole new wave of people – myself included – falling head over heels for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, it was only a matter of time before someone created a tag. (And that lovely person was Frankinesce) but the wonderful Jemma of Fantastic Books was kind enough to tag me! Who knew I had bookish friends?!

I’ve also decided to do the same as Jemma and write letters to the books I’ve chosen!

Kenny From Camp AKA your first book love

Dear Great Expectations by Charles Dickens,

While you are by no means the first book I ever fell in love with, you were the first classic to capture my heart. When I sat in that English class and heard we’d be studying another lengthy classic I’d probably hate (ironic as I went on to do an English Degree) we read chapter one and eight of your story for analysis and I was hooked. The following weekend I convinced my mum to buy me the book and you’ve been a firm favourite ever since.

And yet, it’s hard to place why. The cast of characters are so diverse, as always with your creator’s works, but there’s no one I really relate to or see myself as. But I think the themes of feeling like you have to prove your worth to others constantly and the endless comparisons to those in better positions is still all to prevalent in daily life.

Also, I think Pip should have stopped chasing Estella.

John Ambrose McClaren AKA the book that got away (a book that may not be your all-time favourite now, but you’ll always love it)

Dear The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis

Hi, it’s me again. Sadly I admit it’s been quite a while and we didn’t get on the last time I paid you a visit, but I felt I needed to check in.

Obviously there are many books that came before you, but you are the first series I remember reading before Harry Potter came along and swept you under the bed like Woody in Toy Story when Andy brings home Buzz Lightyear.

You gave me my first thirst for not just fictional worlds, but magical ones. From talking animals, to princes and evil witches and doors at the back of wardrobes. I remember exactly how it felt to read you that very first time: the way it made my heart pound as I thumbed the pages. It’s like a permanent time stamp in my memory.

Sadly, as you remember from our last meeting, it seems I have outgrown you. And I’m not really sure what to do or say about it. But just know that the younger version of me loved you very much, and that will never change.

 

Lucas from Homecoming AKA your GBF (your favourite LGBTQ+ character or book)

Dear Magnus Bane from the Shadowhunter world,

You are the first time I saw my sexuality in fiction and it was a big moment for me. That simple line where you made your declaration without caring about what anyone else thought has given me the courage to start doing the same. I found comfort in you and the stories you littered and you’ve given me the self-love and bravery in terms of my sexuality that I hadn’t possessed before. The fact that you also play an important part of the series shows that you can stand at the forefront and you can be loved.

Josh Sanderson AKA the book next door ( a book that you’ll love no matter how many times you read it)

Dear The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald,

Admittedly, I only read you because of the news of a movie adaptation, but I could never have prepared myself for how much of a place you’d take up in my heart. I relate a lot to Nick and how he always assumes the best in people only to get burned later on, and how he has this innocence and wonder for the big city.

I love the theme of not being able to let go of the past and how Gatsby is so eager to replicate everything when he gets a chance to meet his lost love again. But the fact he wants them to be the old versions of themselves leads to his inevitable downfall. There’s so much to think about in such a short book.

Peter Kavinsky AKA your one true book love

Dear Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K.Rowling,

The reasons I love you are seemingly endless, as you well know. Whenever I need to take some time away from the real world and return to my familiar friends in th wizarding world, you’re always the one I turn to.

I think this is because you’re the real game changer in the series. As history seems destined to repeat itself, that sense of hopelessness creeps in but you provide that flicker of light; the way to win. We have to be careful who we trust and start to learn the importance of having a support network. I also really value the Septumsempera chapter because it shows that Harry and Malfoy are parallels: they’re both two boys forced onto paths they never wanted or expected, caught up in something so much bigger than themselves.

Posted in discussion

The Failure of The Great Gatsby

“I know Gatsby better than I know my own child. My first instinct was to let him go and have Tom Buchanan dominate the book but Gatsby sticks in my heart. I had him for a while, then lost him, and now I know I have him again.”

– Fitzgerald in a letter to Maxwell Perkins (December 1924)

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Originally titled Trimalchio In The West Egg, F.Scott Fitzgerald began work on The Great Gatsby in June 1922. After the success of his first two novels, Fitzgerald was sure that his new working progress would be the one to cement him as a literary writer.

Many critics and historians have tried to find the links between Fitzgerald’s situations and those his characters find themselves in, of which there are quite a few. But what I find most interesting is how fascinated Fitzgerald seemed to be with the period of time he lived in himself. In October 1922, Fitzgerald, his wife, and new-born moved to Long Island which would become the geographical base of his next novel. The house they lived in was small compared the homes of the wealthy New-Yorkers around them and money caused Fitzgerald no end of stress throughout his life. So it’s no surprise to see these themes make their way into The Great Gatsby; Especially during a time when technology was on the rise in the form of photographs and cars and the rise of consumerism.

The Great Gatsby was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons on April 10th 1925. On the same day, Fitzgerald contacted his editor, Maxwell Perkins, to ask if there had been any news, to which Perkins responded “sales situation doubtful, but excellent reviews.” As I mentioned earlier, Fitzgerald was sure his latest publication would be a commercial success, and hope he would sell as many as 75,000 copies. By October of the same year, The Great Gatsby had sold 20,000 copies. Critic response was incredibly mixed; and what many believe led to the period of self-doubt which Fitzgerald carried until the day he died. As to be expected, the negative reactions to the book were notable: One of the most memorable being from Harvey Eagleton for The Dallas Morning News who wrote “one finishes Great Gatsby with a feeling of regret, not for the fate of the people in the book, but for Mr. Fitzgerald.”

Fitzgerald felt that everyone, both with good and bad things to say, had missed the point he was trying to make with the book and (sorry to any ladies who swoon over him like I do) he blamed the bad reception, in part, on women being the main readers of literature at the time, and that they were put off by the lack of “admirable women” in the story.

Despite all of this, Scribner’s kept the book in print and the first edition remained on their trade list until 1946, by which time The Great Gatsby was available in three other print forms. In total, Fitzgerald earned only $8,397 from the book in his lifetime.

As critics continued to beat down his other books and with a stream of endless rejections, his wife’s illness led to him writing only short stories as a means to gain money quicker to pay for her care. F.Scott Fitzgerald died December 21st 1940 believing he was a failure.

However, this tale has a slightly happier ending. During World War II, publishing executives, under the “Council on Books in Wartime”, distributed paperback books to the fighting soldiers overseas. 155,000 copies of The Great Gatsby were among them. This led to streams of articles being written about Fitzgerald’s works in 1944. The book began to sell 50.000 copies a year and editor Arthur Mizener (The New York Times) labelling it “a classic of twentieth-century American fiction” certainly did a lot to help. As of 2013, The Great Gatsby had sold over 25 million copies worldwide. With the glitzy Baz Lurhman adaptation in 2013 and many educational institutions adding the book to reading lists, Fitzgerald is finding his way into new hearts every day.

F.Scott Fitzgerald died believing that he had failed as a writer. But that was not right. He just hadn’t found his audience yet.

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“America’s greatest promise is that something is going to happen, and after a while you get tired of waiting because nothing happens to American art because America is the story of the moon that never rose.”

-Fitzgeraald in a letter to Marya Mannes (October 1925

Posted in contemporary, feminism, review, young adult

It Only Happens In The Movies – Holly Bourne

“Romance films ruin people’s real-life relationships. They offer this idea of love that isn’t sustainable in normal life.”

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Blurb: “Audrey is over romance. Since her parents’ relationship imploded her mother’s been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do. But that doesn’t mean things are easy. Because real love isn’t like the movies…”

Audrey is reeling from her own break up as well as the separation of her parents. She decides to fill her time focusing on getting into university and working her new job at the local independent cinema; along with deciding that all romance films are total fabrications. At this cinema, she meets one of her new co-worker’s – a bad boy named Harry. It Only Happens In The Movies tackles the conventions of romantic films by delving into reality of some of the iconic aspects such as “the kiss” and “the montage” in order to tell a story following the pattern of a romantic film. The narrative’s rise and fall coexists with the conventions of romantic films such as “the big date.”

It’s really nice to see an increasing number of YA books featuring sex in general as well as safe sex. It showed just how awkward a first time with a new person can be, along with the importance of learning about your partner. It felt like real characters taking an important step forward in their relationship.

I did struggle to get into this story but persevered and found that it picked up a lot in the last third. I actually found Audrey’s mum and her character arc more than anything else in the story. What happens to her throughout the plot is heart-breaking, brutal and raw. I felt so much for her that I wished I could climb into the book and give her a hug.

I got the point of what Holly Bourne was trying to achieve with this book but I found that the actual story itself fell a little short. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I’m really not a fan of “girl is warned off bad boy but falls for him anyway” stories.

However, once again Holly Bourne takes a stab at one of the many ridiculous things about the world and really gets you thinking.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

928 Miles From Home – Kim Slater

“Daydreaming is cool because you don’t have to work out a fool proof plan of how you’re going to do stuff or wrestle with the problems that might come up. You can just flash-forward to the good bits.”

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Blurb: “Fourteen year old Calum Brooks has big dreams. One day, he’ll escape this boring life and write movies, proper ones, with massive budgets and A-list stars. For now though, he’s stuck coping alone while his dad works away, writing scripts in his head and trying to stay ‘in’ with his gang of mates at school, who don’t like new kids, especially foreign ones. But when his father invites his new Polish girlfriend and her son, Sergei, to move in, Calum’s life is turned upside down. He’s actually sharing a room with ‘the enemy’! How’s he going to explain that to his mates?”

Calum Brooks loves writing screenplays but he never puts them down on paper. He lives on a tiny estate in Nottingham where nothing interesting every happens so thinks his dreams of becoming a screenwriter for those big blockbuster movies are a waste of time. At school, he’s fallen in with the wrong crowd and while he doesn’t actively take part in the bullying, he still stands back and watches. The common recipient of the taunts from his friends is a polish boy called Sergi. But when Sergi and his mother move into Calum’s home, things are about to take a turn.

Calum is a character I think anyone can relate to at some point in their lives. We’ve all been brought up knowing what is right and wrong, that bullying is unacceptable and what to do if we see if happening. In theory, that seems obvious and easy to do. But in reality, it can be a lot harder to find your voice. Calums friends are the school bullies and, while he claims he doesn’t actively bully anyone, he stands back and watches while the group dish out unwanted attention to unsuspecting students. While he acknowledges that he knows this behaviour isn’t right, he’s afraid of speaking up in case that attention falls on him.

Kim Slater has always made an effort to slip important topics into the narratives of her stories: her previous book A Seven Letter Word features the protagonist’s friend being the victim of islamophobia. 928 Miles From Home takes into account our current political climate which at first I thought might be too heavy for a children’s book but quickly realised it makes perfect sense to include. The popular victim of choice is a boy called Sergi who is polish. He receives all manner of stereotypical hate that can be expected and with experiencing this and listening to stories from his own father, believes that people like Sergi are here sponging off society. It can get very intense to read at times but that’s the point of it: it needs to make an impact.

A character I didn’t expect to see play as much of a role as she did is Amelia who lives on a narrowboat. She and her family move around a lot on her boat and settle in places for a period of time before they are moved on. As Calum starts to build an unwilling friendship with her, his racial biases start to merge when he makes comments about Sergi that are interchangeable with her life and doesn’t understand why she takes some of them to heart as she’s “different to Sergi.”

It is the range of the characters that really are what make this story so amazing to read, mainly because a lot of them exist today and I can even identify some of them in my own life. It highlights the importance of educating yourself, not taking things at face value, and that not saying anything can be just as harmful as being the one doing it.

The narrative flits between prose and short screenplays with the latter being used to showcase hypothetical situations or events in the way Calum believe they took place. This shows hi creativity and adds the undertone of him not believing he’s good enough.

There are so many different elements to this story in addition to the ones I’ve focused on and it just leaves me in awe with every book Kim slater writes.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Goodbye Perfect – Sara Barnard

“I could lie and say I suspected something, or that it all makes sense now, but I didn’t, and it doesn’t. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

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Blurb: “Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.”

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

The story follows fifteen year old Eden Rose McKinley who is faced with a dilemma when her best friend, Bonnie, runs off with her boyfriend… who turns out to be their teacher. She is secretly communicating with her friend and lies to the police in order to protect her friend. But lies can only take someone so far.

To say that Goodbye Perfect is an intense read would be an understatement. From the moment Eden first gets in touch with Bonnie after her disappearance, I was willing with everything in me that she would do the right thing. Eden has an unwavering loyalty to her friend and also a naivety that comes with being fifteen years old: Bonnie claims that she “loves” Mr Cohen and Eden doesn’t see any reason to question that. She is aware it’s serious because the police are involved, but doesn’t understand why it requires a police investigation and media frenzy.

The aspect of media frenzy was a perfect opportunity to take a stab at how the media choses to respond in certain scenarios. Bonnie is quickly labelled a “good” girl which Eden, who grew up in a foster home, is  quick to latch on to, explaining how if she was in Bonnie’s position, there would be a much more negative response than to the smiling pictures of her best friend splattered across the front of newspapers.

This book gets straight into the plot and opens with the police arriving at Eden’s house to interview her and the other backstory elements are littered throughout.  This worked well as the lull periods in the investigation were padded out with insights into their friendship and “conversations that took on a different meaning after she left” which really showed how the sign were there, if only Eden had known what to look for.

This story terrified and baffled me in equal measure because I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but then I remembered this is not entirely fictional. There have been many stories like this emerging in the media. It’s really happening. And that made it all the more difficult to stomach.

Goodbye Perfect is an utterly brilliant cat-and-mouse story that tests how far one girl will go to keep a secret.

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Posted in review, young adult

Margot & Me – Juno Dawson

“I wonder, when writing diary entries such as this one, if we in some way hope they’ll be found.”

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Blurb: “Fliss’s mum needs peace and quiet to recuperate from a long illness, so they both move to the countryside to live with Margot, Fliss’ stern and bullying grandmother. Life on the farm is tough and life at school is even tougher, so when Fliss unearths Margot’s wartime diary she sees an opportunity to get her own back. But Fliss soon discovers Margot’s life during the evacuation was full of adventure, mystery… and even passion. What’s more, she learns a terrible secret that could tear her whole family apart…”

The story is centred on a girl called Felicity (Fliss for short) who is uprooted from her life in London and moved to a farm in Wales where her mother is suffering from cancer. The plan is to stay there temporarily until her mother recovers from the illness which would be much easier to deal with if Fliss didn’t have to put up with her horrid grandma called Margot.  During Fliss’s exploration of her new home she comes across a diary that belonged to Margot during World War II and decides to start reading.

When I pick up a new book from an author I consistently read, I always look for improvements in the quality and writing. Juno Dawson does not disappoint. This book was just on a new level to anything she’s ever written and really did have a Hollow Pike feel to it. Unlike a lot of Young Adult books, Fliss really did feel like a teenager and a lot of the comments she made about things, including Margot, had me out-loud laughing at times. There was a really good balance between the past and present and it didn’t feel like you were lingering too long in the present world or the diary world. It was nice to see the barriers between Fliss and Margot slowly start to dismantle as the story progressed.

This book is a perfect example of how we may dismiss someone because they’re a polar opposite to us only to learn that actually we have a lot more in common than we originally thought.

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Posted in contemporary, review

Holding – Graham Norton

“Someone had robbed her of her happiness, and now that they had found his body, she knew exactly who to blame.”

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Blurb: “The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste. So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.”

I am always unsure when I hear that a celebrity, not from a literature field, announces that they are writing a book; especially when it’s a piece of fiction. I guess it’s just the sceptical side of me thinking that the person in question is more likely to succeed because they have a ready-made audience there. But that could be said of any kind of art.

Holding is set in the remote village of Duneen in Ireland where not much exciting happens. When a body is dug up by builders at an old farm, the residents come to life with questions of who it might be and who did it. Old memories are brought to the surface and tensions start to rise.

As to be expected this is a slow read at times but that reflects the setting; living in a small village myself I know just how uneventful things can be. The sluggish pace does leave room for Norton to sprinkle back story over the pages and help build up a better picture of the residents from policeman PJ Collins to Brid and Evelyn who have quite a bitter history together. The narrative doesn’t stick solely to one character like I originally thought it might which works really well in giving the reader a movie-montage style view of the lives of these people. While the discovered body is the crux of the snowballing plot, the story is about much more than that. It shows the power of secrets and just what happens if we keep them for too long, as well as if we let them slip free.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

Awful Auntie – David Walliams

“Aunt Alberta is the most awful aunt who ever lived. Would you like to meet her?”

 

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Blurb: “From larger than life, tiddlywinks obsessed Awful Aunt Alberta to her pet owl, Wagner – this is an adventure with a difference. Aunt Alberta is on a mission to cheat the young Lady Stella Saxby out of her inheritance – Saxby Hall. But with mischievous and irrepressible Soot, the cockney ghost of a chimney sweep, alongside her Stella is determined to fight back… And sometimes a special friend, however different, is all you need to win through.”

The story follows Lady Stella Saxby who wakes up from a coma to find that her wealthy parents are dead and she is left in the care of her horrid Aunt Alberta and an owl called Wagner. As Stella starts to adjust to a world without her parents, she soon learns that maybe everything isn’t how it first seemed and soon plots an escape with the help of her ghost friend Soot.

All I can say is that I finally understand why David Walliams is constantly topping the charts and making himself comfortable there. Awful Auntie is an injection of fun and downright goodness. It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s The Twits and was a fantastic mix of humour and mystery.

The characters are well-fleshed out and the forgetful butler, Gibbon, had me rolling in my seat at times. I just loved how he wandered around completely unaware of the situation going on around him.

If you’re looking to get into David Walliams’ work and unsure of where to start with his incredible catalogue, Awful Auntie is a sure winner.

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