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 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, young adult

The Paper & Hearts Society – Lucy Powrie

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book lover is in want of a good book will always find one in a library.”

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Blurb: “Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in. She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people. Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body.”

Trigger warning: panic attacks

Lucy Powrie is a booktuber who talks about YA and classic literature. I’ve always found her so eloquent in the way she expresses her love of books and her dedication to the Twitter chat #UKYA, which she created, has been a joy to witness. NOw, at nineteen years old, she’s published her first book.

It’s almost stereotypical to say, but a book club is an experience I wish I’d had growing up. I didn’t have many friends who read for pleasure, let alone ones that were willing to talk for hours on end about characters. As the tagline says, “find your people”, and Tabby does just that. She stumbles across a book club at her new school called The Paper & Hearts Society and feels like she is validated for her love of various books, even if they are different to her peers. An aspect I really loved about this story was that every single person in this group is a different book that they love from Harry Potter, to Game Of Thrones, to the classics and that is accepted and appreciated by the others, even if they don’t like those stories at all.

Social media is explored in some ways I’ve never seen before. When Tabby’s friend requests are accepted by her new friends and she is allowed access to their online platforms, it feels like she has been given permission to see a private side of them; the inner workings of their mind. It’s something that I’d never really thought about. Of course, the negative side of the internet is shown as a big sub plot of the book is the fact that Tabby’s ex-friend, Jess, is bullying her online. It’s suffocating and horrible and shows just how easy it is to attempt to ruin someone’s life from afar under an anonymous name. It causes severe anxiety in Tabby, affects her relationships with her new friends, and causes panic attacks.

Periods get a mention and I loved how there were references to both tampons and pads to show the different tools for tackling mother nature. It’s nice to see this make a more common appearance in YA contemporaries.

The Paper & Hearts Society also has the character Olivia come out as demisexual and explain what it means. It’s a lovely little moment and a chance to educate readers on a type of sexuality they may not be as familiar with.

The real star is the narrator of the audiobook, Imogen Heap, who did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. I’d love to read more books narrated by her.

The only problem I had is that I just didn’t really gel with the story as much as I thought I might and found myself having to restart chapters again because I wasn’t really paying attention, so it took a bit of time to really  But overall, The Paper And Society is a dream for anyone in desperate need of a group of people who love books just as much as they do.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

“You may have been perfectly designed but there is always room for improvement.”

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Blurb: “In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.”

Having read Louise O’Neill’s more recent book Asking For It, I sort of knew what to expect when going into her debut. O’Neill has become well known for her activism regarding women’s issues from her weekly columns at the Irish Examiner, to her outspoken manner online, and of course her books; where she tackles topics most would rather avoid.

Only Ever Yours tells the story of a world in which the use of birth control to maintain the “perfect body” has led to women being created rather than born naturally. The girls are put into schools where they are trained to believe that their looks and rankings will dictate their futures. There are three roles available after graduation: companion, concubines and chastities. Of course, everyone wants to be a companion to one of the rich, attractive men – known as Inheritants – who will make their choice at the ceremony.

This is not a pleasant read. To describe it as a “brilliant book that everyone should read” (which it is) almost feels like missing the point of the narrative. From the outset that is something unsettling and if you are struggling with weight issues or an eating disorder it is best to wait until you are in a very good place before reading it – which is what I did. There is overwhelming sense that something bad is going to happen if any of the characters step out of line and there were many occasions where I was holding my breath as if that would help the story in some way. I don’t normally pay attention to quotes from other authors on books as those opinions never tend to sway me towards buying a book, but Jeanette Winterson says that “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and honestly, that could not be more true.

I did find the world confusing at first as you’re thrown in the deep end to follow Freida who is in her final year, preparing for the ceremony. The characters around her are the embodiment of everything we would deem wrong from society and their views are amplified throughout, creating a sense of disorientation when you see the extreme lengths some girls will go to in order to keep their rankings up. While pitched as a strong relationship between Freida and Isabel, their friendship is fraught for most of the book as Isabel appears to let herself go and doesn’t get punished for her actions; instead she is simply removed from the rankings. The reason for which sets your mind into the worst possible outcomes for her. The chastities in charge refer to the girls by numbers, but the girls themselves call each other by names which made it difficult to understand the intended purpose: they are stripped of their names but seem to retain them at the same time.

An obvious comparison to make is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood because they both deal with government control of women’s bodies, but it’s important to note the very big differences. In Only Ever Yours birth control is seen as a good thing, to stop pregnancy ruining your bodies (meanwhile Handmaid’s sees birth control as a bad thing) and in Handmaid’s there is a sense of hope that things could really change. There is none of that in Only Ever Yours. It is a dark, terrifying insight into what our world could be like if we don’t start tackling important issues.

I can only salute Louise O’Neill for her fantastic efforts… even if she does scare me a bit.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Wrong Chords – Christine Hurley Deriso

“Sticking music in front of me is like putting a map in the face of a driver who already knows the way.”

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Blurb: “Scarlett Stiles is desperate for a change of scenery after her older brother, Liam, dies of a drug overdose. But spending the summer with her grandfather wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Luckily, Scarlett finds something to keep her busy–a local rock band looking for a guitarist. Even though playing guitar has been hard since Liam died, Scarlett can’t pass on an opportunity like this, and she can’t take her eyes off the band’s hot lead singer either. Is real happiness just around the corner? Or will she always be haunted by her brother’s death?”

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

The story follows a girl called Scarlett who goes to stay with her Grandfather for the summer, following the death of her brother. She gets a job as a lifeguard, focuses on her upcoming college enrolment and tries to get on with life as normal. Through an almost unfortunate event, Scarlett meets a boy called Zach and learns that he is in a band. After his fellow bandmates learn of her talents on vocals and with a guitar, she is quickly asked to join.

At its heart this is a tale about grief. While it has been a few months, Scarlett is still deeply affected by the loss of her brother; and it doesn’t help when the real cause of his death is shielded from outsiders. Music is her connection to Liam as he taught her how to play guitar and she has shied away from the instrument since his death. What I loved is seeing Scarlett channel her feelings back into music. When she joins the band, memories are shared of times when she bonded with her brother through melodies.

While I enjoyed reading everything to do with the band and their performances, I found it hard to connect because I feel like it’s something that needed the visuals I struggled to conjure up enough of an image in my mind of the scenes in motion.

At the start I really didn’t like the Grandfather but as the story progressed I started to see the softer side to him and grew to really appreciate his relationship with Scarlet.

A must for music and romance lovers, and anyone wishing it was summer!

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Feel Good 101 – Emma Blackery

“If you’re able to take away just one thing for this book that gives you the confidence to make a decision that benefits your life, then I’m glad to have written it.”

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Blurb: “In Feel Good 101, YouTube’s most outspoken star Emma Blackery is finally putting pen to paper to (over)share all her hard-learned life lessons. From standing up to bullies and bad bosses to embracing body confidence and making peace with her brain, Emma speaks with her trademark honesty about the issues she’s faced – including her struggles with anxiety and depression. This is the book Emma wishes she’d had growing up . . . and she’s written it for you”

I have always been skeptical of books written by YouTubers; especially when many of them are life stories written by people the same age as me. When Emma made a video expressing her distaste for a number of YouTubers signing book deals, it was a relief to see a big content creator breaking what had almost become a norm. Which made it an even bigger shock when she took a U-Turn a few months later and announced that she was writing a book.

Feel Good 101 started off as a series on Emma’s channel offering advice on various topics affecting young people, so it seemed only natural for that it to expand into a full book. Emma covers everything you can think of from school, music, mental health, dealing with failure, being bullied and the bully, and of course how she started her channel. It’s very similar to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book All I Know Now in the sense that rather than attempting to be a self-help book (as Emma frequently makes it clear throughout, this book alone will not solve your problems), each segment is backed up by real life experiences. Emma doesn’t claim to have all of the answers and it’s that flawed, human element that makes this book a pleasure to read.

At first I was unsure whether to pick this up; for the reasons stated earlier. But when I heard there was an audiobook, I decided to use my audible credit. If you’re yet to buy Feel Good 101, I highly recommend the audiobook because it was like listening to one long video and held my attention a lot more than I think reading the book would have because you’re hearing Emma read her story. Oh, and there’s the additional bonus of an interview with YA author Holly Bourne if you opt for the audiobook.

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Posted in review, young adult

Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Another secret of the universe: sometimes pain was like a storm that comes out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour, could end in lightning and thunder.”

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Blurb: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.”

I’m a firm believer that you can learn a lot about someone by their favourite books. After all, they are favourites for a reason. For a few years I’ve watched a booktuber by the name of renontheroad whose favourite book is this one. Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe is not short of its critical acclaim with four in total including the Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction and the Michael L. Printz Award.

The story follows a Mexican-American boy called Aristotle who lives in El Paso in the eighties. He is obsessed with the world and everything it has to offer; he wants to know all the secrets of the universe. Struggling to adapt to life without his brother – who is shunned by the family – the endless possibilities of the future and finding his identity and footing in the world. Aristotle meets a boy called Dante at a swimming pool and their friendship blossoms from there.

This book is a slow burn and more about taking the time to reflect on the small things in life. Meaning plays a very big role in the story as it’s something that Aristotle is constantly searching for. While it felt almost tedious, it could be said that the sluggish pace is reflective of real life; not everything is eventful all the time. Another aspect of the story that incorporates this is the romance. Like most real-life relationships it slowly builds up and, as the story is narrated from Aristotle’s point of view, there aren’t any real indications of his feelings for Dante apart from him speaking more often about him. He doesn’t really notice and process his feelings until it’s pointed out to him.

The writing style is poetic but borders almost on pretentious at times. Aristotle is so fascinated by the world and almost resentful of Dante at times by how satisfied he is with his life.

I listened to the audiobook version because it was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda and I think this took away from my enjoyment. As a narrator, he didn’t do a good enough job of differentiating between the voices so it was hard to tell which was speech and Aristotle’s internal thoughts. I wonder if I might have had a better experience by reading the book rather than listening to it.

A book that held a lot of promise but was ultimately a let-down for me.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Another Place – Matthew Crow

“I wrote my goal for the summer. A goal I would only share with those whose involvement helped my mission. The last secret between me and my friend I had known only at night. That summer I would find Sarah Banks.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Claudette Flint is coming home from hospital after an escalating depression left her unable to cope. Released into the care of her dad, she faces the daunting task of piecing herself back together. She may look unchanged; but everything’s different. The same could be said about her seaside hometown: this close-knit community seems to be unspooling in the wake of the sudden disappearance of one of her schoolmates, Sarah.”

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

The story follows a teenage girl called Claudette who returns home after a hospital stay for her mental illness and learns that her fellow classmate, Sarah, has gone missing. As part of her recovery, Claudette’s therapist has instructed her to set herself goals, no matter how small. Claudette decides her goal for the summer is to find Sarah.

Another Place fell very short for me. I expected it to be a great mystery novel but it was packed full of characters and subplots that I didn’t really care about, which made it hard to connect to anything. The way that Claudette talks about Sarah made it seem like they were best friends but in fact they were minor acquaintances. It fell quickly into “John Green manic pixie dream girl” territory and that just pulled me out of the story even more.

The book does have some redeeming factor and one of those is handling of mental illness. Claudette has a wonderful father who does his best to stand up and support his daughter which encourages Claudette to open up. Even when unsure of how to act upon her return, he doesn’t shut himself off from her and it was a perfect example of a supportive relationship that may encourage those struggling to open up to their own family members.

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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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