Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan

“My dream was to one day work at NASA. I knew it was a long shot, but I liked a challenge.”

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.”

Trigger warnings: homophobia, physical and emotional abuse, rape and sexual assault.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a book that I clicked with instantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint the thread that had me turning page after page with no sign of stopping. Sabina Khan does a fantastic job of explaining Rukhsana’s life and dropping the reader into an incredibly important period: the all-too familiar final school year before college. Rukhsana is already facing a tremendous amount of pressure and as a Muslim daughter of Bengali parents, she’s also battling the expectations that she should be married off as soon as possible. Despite the fact that she has just secured a scholarship at her dream school and also she’s a lesbian. It was wonderful to go through this story with an already established gay relationship and the scenes with Rukhsana and Ariana were so heart-warming to read as they were just so comfortable in each other’s company; the love felt real.

I expected a turn to happen in this book when Rukhsana’s parents finally found out about the relationship but I didn’t expect them to go to the extremes they did. I gasped, cried, and recoiled at many of the scenes that unfolded as a result of a parent’s desperate attempts to control their child. This shift provided the stark reminder that, while society is becoming more liberal and accepting, there are still places in the world where being gay can result in death, and that there is an older generation clinging to their religious beliefs so tightly that they are willing to let their children suffer greatly as a consequence.

An unexpected aspect was the Grandma’s role in the story. She is one of the few people accepting of Rukhsana’s love life because she has experienced times in her own life where she was beaten down and forced into a box. Her narrative, through both dialogue and diary pages, shows what can happen when someone chooses to conform to what is expected of them. It’s almost a lose-lose situation. This part of the narrative is where it gets quite dark and triggering which is why I’ve applied the aforementioned warnings at the start of this review.

The Love And Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a story about fighting for who you love, and who you want to be, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.

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Posted in adult fiction, lgbt, review, romance

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

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Blurb: “Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?”

Trigger warning: brief homophobia and slurs, emotional and physical abuse.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo is a book that I’ve heard a lot about. Towards the end of 2018, it popped up on everyone’s favourite lists for the year, and I’ve not seen a single bad thing about it. Sadly, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve avoided it: I don’t tend to have good experiences with hyped books. It wasn’t until fellow blogger Sofia kept badgering me to read it whenever I mentioned my next audiobook listen that I finally cracked.

The story is centered around Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo who has decided to come out of hiding to write a book about her life with the help of Monique, a magazine reporter. Evelyn is famous of her many film roles but also the absurd number of husbands she’s garnered along her journey. Monique, on the other hand, is the epitome of the writer stuck in a dead-end job looking for that something to give her life purpose.

I fell in love with this book instantly. The glamour and mystery around famed Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo reminded me so much of The Great Gatsby in the sense that everyone knows Evelyn Hugo, but know one really knows her. The story starts with Monique being informed by her boss that Evelyn Hugo has requested her specifically to write a brief article on her life; when she accepts the offer that story becomes a memoir. The book has multiple narratives: Monique’s, a gossip columnist, and Evelyn Hugo. I went with the audiobook (on several recommendations) and every single narrator – Alma Cuvero, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles- for this book is utterly brilliant. I was completely immersed in every part of the plot, in every single character, and when it came to Evelyn talking about her life, and her many husbands, I often found myself stopping what I was doing just to take it all in. There were many instances where I just forgot that Evelyn Hugo isn’t a real person and that I wasn’t actually listening to an autobiography. I’ve come out of the reading experience feeling like I have learned so much about this incredible woman who lived such a mesmerizing, complicated life only to be faced with the cold reality that she never existed.

Monique fades into the background a lot but always pops up at the right moments to ask Evelyn the questions that I, and probably many other readers, wanted answers to. She is the other side of the coin. Here you have a rich and famous actress spending hours in the same room talking to a magazine reporter who can barely make ends meet, and yet they were able to realise the similarities in their lives; that despite their different classes, ultimately they are both human.

A big surprise in this book is that Evelyn Hugo is bisexual. I say that because none of the marketing that I have seen for the book has mentioned this aspect at all – which is something that would have made me pick up this book a lot sooner. It has gay men, lesbians and bisexuals littered throughout and I feel like this is something that should be shouted about from the rooftops.

It’s been a long time since I finished reading a book and felt such a sense of happiness but also loss that led to me wanting to starting reading that same story again right away, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo did that for me. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

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Posted in contemporary, fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Kiss – Katharine & Liz Corr

“Witches do not kneel. They do not grovel. They do not beg favours from any creature, mortal or immortal. At most they bargain.”

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Blurb: “Sixteeen-year-old Meredith is fed-up with her feuding family and feeling invisible at school – not to mention the witch magic that shoots out of her fingernails when she’s stressed. Then sweet, sensitive Jack comes into her life and she falls for him hard. The only problem is that he is periodically possessed by a destructive centuries-old curse. Meredith has lost her heart, but will she also lose her life? Or in true fairytale tradition, can true love’s kiss save the day?”

The Witch’s Kiss is the first instalment of a trilogy by sisters Katharine and Liz Corr, and it’s a book I fell in love with instantly.

Set in modern day, readers are introduced to Meredith (Merry) who is a witch but does a very good job of not embracing this. She beats herself down a lot when she does have a momentary lapse of control and internalises her emotions in a way that makes her a character readers can really relate to. As she learns of the enormous task that faces her, naturally she wants to run in the opposite direction but then approaches the situation with a kind of “well if it has to be me then I guess I will” attitude. Unlike a lot of YA books, she was a character that read like the age she is supposed to be so a lot of her choices made sense.

Another great addition to this story is the brother, Leo, who becomes Merry’s partner in crime. A lot of the time in “modern day fantasy” siblings are often brushed aside so it was wonderful to see her have this family support system who wanted to keep her safe but also stood out on his own. I just loved every single scene he was in and it was clear that he was willing to do whatever it takes to protect his sister but also allow her that room to do things on her own when required.

The Witch’s Kiss blends the present and the anglo-saxon period in which the reader learns of an enchantment put in place to keep the evil wizard, Gwydion, and his servant, The King of Hearts, in a deep sleep. But this enchantment is soon to end and it falls to Merry to be the one to stop the wizard before the curse takes hold. Viewing stories through an adult lens meant that when the mother puts her foot down, I could actually understand the reasoning behind her actions, whereas teenage me would have probably screamed at her. It was nice to see how the bubbling drama was affecting those around Merry rather than solely focusing on her. The blending of timelines was done in an interesting way: rather than resorting to info dumping to fill the reader in, they are instead taken through the history in a series of chapters, getting to know the old faces and their motivations which add that further weight in the present. It works wonderfully but my only wish is that it had been threaded a lot more through once it had all been revealed.

The King of Hearts, also known as Jack, is a truly tragic character and my heart just ached as I began to learn more about him. The story does lull a bit around the middle but it allows that room to understand who he actually is compared to the history and, again, I loved that little way of blending two time periods together.

That tension build at the start and the bubbling danger throughout leads to a dramatic conclusion which had me shielding myself with my blanket as I fought my way through alongside Merry.

The Witch’s Kiss is a breath of fresh air with magic, a brilliant cast of characters and a test of morals.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook Of The Month | Monday’s Not Coming

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We’re so close to Christmas that I can almost taste all of the gingerbread lattes and walnuts I’m going to consume! I’m also back to wearing cardigans so it feels like I’m in my  true form again.

This month, I’ve been listening to Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson and I was already sold on the premise, but hearing the author talk about the book on Epic Reads made me add this to my TBR and impatiently wait until release.

The story follows Claudia whose best friend Monday goes missing. She’s not on the register at school, her phone is disconnected and her parents seem unwilling to talk to her. While becoming very much a mystery novel as the narrative fits around in time to build up Monday’s character and her relationship to Claudia, there is a big emphasis on how missing white children are investigated compared to POC children. Monday’s absence barely makes a ripple in the water.

After the disaster of my last audiobook, it’s such a relief to get one with a really good narrator. This is narrated by Imani Parks who is doing a fantastic job of bringing life to Claudia.

At the time of writing this I am 37% in and I’m looking forward to seeing where this story is going!

Posted in contemporary, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea (Chapter Sampler) – Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and breakdancing. It’s my story, and I’m grateful to you for reading.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.”

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

Additional Note: I am very aware that as a white reviewer that there are aspects of this story I cannot connect to and I am sharing this from a place of privilege. If you know of any own voice reviews of this sampler please let me know and I will add them here.

Like probably everyone, I know Tahereh Mafi from her best-selling YA series Shatter Me and I have been a follower of all her social media platforms for many years. She has been quite reserved when it comes to her personal life which made it even more interesting when she announced a new book – a YA contemporary taking aspects of her experiences growing up as a Muslim in America, oh and her love for breakdancing.

It’s very hard for me to judge this story fairly until the book I actually out as I was only given a first-chapter sampler but what I read has left me begging for the rest of it.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea follows Shirin who has just started at a new school; her fourth in two years. Initially, Shirin comes across as abrasive and the epitome of “fuck you and fuck the world.” However, her demeanour began to quickly make sense: she is growing up in a world that constantly takes her at face value, judging her before they even get the chance to know her. It was expected from her classmates but shocking to also see the teachers acting the same way. She addresses the double standards compared to her brother: while she is attacked for wearing a hijab and receives a torrid of islamophobia, her brother is fawned over by girls who find him “exotic.”

The reader really gets the sense that she’s struggling to find her place in the world and break dancing will become something positive she can invest her time in; something where who she is outside of the moves won’t matter. Also I’ve never read a book that really focuses on breakdancing before and I’m very intrigued to see where the rest of the story goes.

Publication Date: 16th October 2018

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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

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

“If love is like possession, maybe my letters are like my exorcisms. My letters set me free… or at least they’re supposed to.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control”

As I keep finding myself saying, I have long since outgrown Young Adult Contemporary; and yet I still find myself picking it up every now and again so maybe this statement isn’t very true anymore. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I see every time I go into a bookstore and people are constantly talking about it – especially with the movie announcement. It’s because of that reason that I decided to give the book a go.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows a girl called Lara Jean who writes love letters to every boy she’s ever loved and keeps them in a box. They’re not intended for the person she’s written to. They’re for her eyes only as sort of “goodbyes” when she’s decided to move on from that crush for whatever reason. But one day when her letters are sent out, Lara is forced to face the past.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Laura Knight Keating which was the best decision I could have made. It was absolutely brilliant. Laura managed to capture the real essence of the protagonist and it really felt like I was just sitting down with a coffee listening to Lara chat about her story.

It was wonderful to see sibling relationships with a strong bond. A lot of the story is focused on Lara’s connection with her older sister Margot and how there is this inherent need to look after each other, even more so with the youngest, Kitty, and seeing them spending so much time together just added a nice layer to the book. Lara is Korean-American and it was nice to see her exploring that side of her while being encouraged by her father to do so. It was all very positive and even when it did fall to negative sides with some of her other interactions, Lara was not afraid to stand up for herself and say “this is wrong.” In fact, the initial plot device of the letters is more of a footnote in the story rather than a driving force. Most of the narrative is taken up by the sibling connections and the fake relationship that develops between Lara and Peter Kavinsky to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. The letters are more of a nod to how even the small interactions you have in life can have a lasting impact on you. Everything about this book was just so seamless and well thought out that I was in complete awe of the storytelling.

The only things that didn’t sit right were that it didn’t make sense why Peter would choose Lara out of every other girl at school to be his fake girlfriend when she wasn’t from the same social circle, and it was more likely to cause suspicion. Another was the fact that Lara had decided to address the letters if she never planned on sending them. But these factors didn’t make that much of an impact on my reading.

If you haven’t read the book yet, and plan on doing so, I highly recommend getting the audiobook.

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Posted in contemporary, poetry, review, young adult

Moonrise – Sarah Crossan

“People are gonna be telling you all kinds of
Lies.
I need you to know the truth.”

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Blurb: “Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row. But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think.”

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

Joe’s life was turned upside down when he received a phone call revealing that his brother, Ed, was going to prison on a murder charge. The family happens to live in a state where the death penalty is a punishment and when Ed’s execution date is confirmed, Joe struggles even more.

Sticking to her usual unique style, Moonrise is another free verse novel from Sarah Crossan. The use of this format to tell the story creates a simplicity that really hits you in the gut. The story doesn’t rely on fancy metaphors or deep imagery to make the reader feel something (though I want to express that using metaphors/imagery is not a bad thing either). It just further highlights Crossan’s talents.

The story is told through snapshots in time. The reader gets an insight into Joe’s childhood and memories with his brother as the execution fate draws closer. This, along with the writing format, makes it impossible not to feel something.

This is a heart-wrenching read tackling the idea of how to cope with losing a loved one.

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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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