Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: 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 break dancing. It’s my story.”

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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. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, thriller, young adult

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

“You really think someone killed him?

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Blurb:”Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town. He is also unexpectedly dead. Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?”

[AD – Gifted]

Trigger Warnings: Talks of death, depictions of death, emotional and physical abuse.

I’ve followed Savannah with her poetry for a long time so when she announced that she was writing a book, I had mentally signed up for it and waited patiently to finally get the lyrical brilliance from her in a new format.

Rather fitting to her previous work, the central themes of The Truth About Keeping Secrets are quite dark. The protagonist, Sydney, is reeling from the unexpected loss of her father and has taken to devoting most of her time to thinking about death, along with scrolling endlessly through a website called TOD which posts surveillance footage of real life deaths. Her father was a renowned therapist in the town of Pleasant Hills and Sydney also struggles with the fact that people out there had a relationship with a dad in a way that she never did; that he mattered and existed to other people, that he wasn’t solely hers. It’s incredibly easy to feel empathy for this character, especially when the mysterious threatening text messages begin and none of the adults around her take them seriously. She completely regresses into herself until she meets June.

I had a lot of problems with June because for a big portion of the book she trends the edges of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope. Sydney is so fascinated with her and becomes obsessed to the point where she even says that her life could be boiled down to the 20 minutes a day she spent driving to and from school with June. While the big lulling middle of the book focuses so much on establishing their relationship, you learn nothing about her until the climatic end of the books. When the details did arise, they added so much to her character and completely changed my perspective and I just wish they hadn’t been confined to the last few pages of the book. Especially as Sydney and June both express a romantic interest in each other.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets is clearly very well planned and the details that come to light at the big climax left me reeling. However, because so much of the book is focused on Sydney’s obsession with June, there’s a massive lull between the first couple of text messages, the subsequent ones, and the events that ramp up at the end. For this reason, when that big turning point comes it feels like the story has gone from 0-100 because it becomes so dramatic so quick and there wasn’t that natural incline. This really shook my enjoyment of the book because it’s been marketed as a YA Thriller but for the most part it’s not particularly thrilling.

I loved the twist and turns but I just wish there had been more of them.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, Uncategorized

Audiobook Of The Month | The Humans

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After getting into Matt Haig’s books last year, and one of them making it onto my list of favourites for 2018, I’ve decided that I really want to read more of his back catalogue so when I was scrolling through audible desperately trying to find my first listen of 2019, I came across The Humans. 

The Humans is about an alien who comes to earth and takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. The unnamed narrator has been sent to stop the humans discovering the answers to a mathematical theory. Initially, this summary didn’t really interest me, but I adored the writing style in How To Stop Time so I took a tiny leap out of my comfort zone and decided to give The Humans a go.

A lot of my pure enjoyment from this audiobook so far comes from the narrator, Mark Meadows. He is simply fantastic. The delivery of the lines and the tonal usage really makes the funny and witty moments land perfectly and I’ve found myself laughing out loud many a time at my desk during a work day. Of course, part of this falls to the clever nature of the narrative constructed by Matt Haig. The narrator talks about walking around naked and being confused about why the police have been called on him, not understanding why on earth someone would have a wife, and learning the human language through magazines such as Cosmopolitan.

It’s a short audiobook – standing at just over 8 hours- so I’m wondering where exactly the story is going to end up given the length.

At the time of writing this I am 29% into the audiobook and loving every minute of it.

What audiobooks are you listening to this month?

What were your favourites of 2018?

Posted in Historical Fiction, review, Uncategorized

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

“What a group we were. A pregnant girl in love, a kindly shoemaker, an orphan boy, a blind girl and a giantess who complained that everyone was in her way when she herself took up the most room. And me, a lonely girl who missed her family and begged for a second chance.”

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Blurb: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.”

Historial fiction is not a genre I actively reach for. In fact, when I think about others I’ve read, the only one that springs to mind is The Book Thief. But like the way I find most of my books, it’s talked about a lot in the community. So when I came across in on the shelf at my library, I scooped it up and went on my way.

I used to love learning about history when I was younger and it’s baffling that this is the first time I’ve heard about the Whilhelm Gustloff which is one of the worst wartime ship disasters. It’s total loss is greater than the Titanic and Lusitana tragedies combined. The event seems to have become a minor footnote amongst everything else that took place during World War II so I’m glad this book exists as a way to counteract that.

Salt To The Sea is told through four different perspectives: Florian who is fleeing from his dark deeds, Joana who is a nurse, Emilia who is a young pregnant girl, and Alfred who is a German solider. Each of these points of view worked perfectly in showing the realities of war and showcasing different stories of civilians just trying to make it out alive. When it comes to stories of war, I feel like it’s too easy to forget the innocent people trapped in the middle. Out of the four characters the reader follows directly, Alfred was the most interesting as he was working for Hitler. He was determined to prove his worth, earn a medal, and genuinely believed that he was on the right side of history.

The book is incredibly brutal. When the plot reaches its climax there is no escape from the death and graphic descriptions of people jumping from the ship in a desperate attempt to survive, no way to get past the images of bodies floating in water. But to downplay those elements would do this book, and history, a massive disservice. While the characters themselves are fictionalised and inspired by Ruta sepetys research, knowing that this tragedy really happened was almost impossible to fathom.

The only real grip I had with this book is the chapters. The reader is following each character for three pages at most before another one steps up which makes it really hard to care entirely for the characters or really get a full sense of who they are.

Salt To The Sea is heart wrenching but shines a light on an important, forgotten part of history.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

“I had already written about my mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive. But the question now was not: why should I stay alive? The question this time was a broader one: how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”

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Trigger warning: talks of suicide

My first exposure to Matt Haig was when one of his tweets about anxiety appeared on My Twitter timeline. I followed him and have done ever since but it’s only recently that I started to delve into his books.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is the second of haig’s books that I have picked up but it is the first non-fiction of his. In this book, Matt Haig talks candidly about his panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and suicide attempt. While the he bounces around other topics, these in particular can be quite difficult to read so if you feel you may be triggered, take this book at your own pace.

He focuses a lot on how the modern day world seems to demand more from us and that, as a result, our lives have become cluttered and It’s far too easy to have more things to worry about; especially as the development of technology allows us to stay plugged in to the wider world.

I found it very comforting to read about his struggles with anxiety as it reinforced the knowledge that I am not alone in my own anxiety disorder. He offers lots of tips on how to control negative thoughts and worries in a “nervous planet” and offers metaphors of what he feels like to have this illness which just resonated so well and have given me a way to explain to others exactly what it feels like to have my mind.

He also touches on the pressure of men in society from body image to emotional connection to suicide statistics. It was important to see this highlight as to not be “men too” but… well men too.

Notes On A Nervous Planet has provided lots of food for thought and techniques to try for focusing on what I can control and not getting stressed out over the things I can’t.

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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 contemporary, review, thriller

Monday’s Not Coming – Tiffany D. Jackson

“This is the story of how my best friend disappeared. How nobody noticed she was gone except me, and how nobody cared until they found her… one year later.”

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Blurb: “Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumours and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.”

Monday’s Not Coming is a book I didn’t really hear much about until I saw Tiffany D. Jackson talking about in on the Epic Reads channel talking about what inspired her to write it. When children go missing they can be the front page of newspapers, the breaking stories on a news channel. But what if they aren’t from a rich background or a “perfect family?” What if they’re a different ethnicity and their absence barely making a ripple in the water?

Monday’s Not Coming is a YA thriller centered around a girl called Claudia who’s best friend Monday Charles has gone missing, and no one seems to notice or care: her phone is disconnected, her friend’s mother won’t get her a straight answer – much less her siblings – and when she contacts the police they don’t follow up her concerns. The story flits around the timeline, for before to after, to one year before the before, allowing the reader to piece together who Monday is, her friendship with Claudia, Claudia herself and the wider issues starting to face them. There’s talk of the estate Monday’s family lives in being torn down to make way for fancy rich apartments, Claudia’s mother telling her off how using slang instead of proper English because she wants Claudia to integrate more, Claudia herself falling under the radar and later being diagnosed with learning difficulties after the school didn’t take her lack of development seriously, the handling of the investigation as a whole. Simply: no one wants to listen to Claudia going on about her missing friend and it’s nothing short of infuriating.

I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Imani Parks who has made it onto my list of favourite narrators. Her voice is just magnetic and she breathed life into Claudia’s character and I was invested from the first paragraph. Every emotion conveyed by the narration I felt deep in the pit of my chest. I wanted to scream, to have someone take this teenage girl’s concerns seriously.

Navigating this story is like trying untangling a pair of headphones. When you think you’ve finally worked it all out, you find out there’s still a knot you missed. I didn’t know what to believe, or what the outcome would be and the pacing was incredible.

As mentioned earlier there are a lot of elements woven in that deal with the treatment of black individuals and their families which I cannot relate to or feel comfortable commenting on, so if you know of any own voices reviews, please let me know!

The only real issue I had with this book is the timeline. It jumps around a lot and not in a way that is really clear. I would have preferred maybe a “September 2016” rather than a vague “before the before” because the narrative is so crisp that it’s hard to tell when thing are actually taking place and I did have to restart chapters sometimes to understand when they were happening.

Monday’s Not Coming is a terrifying book full of twists and turns with moments that will make you despair.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Queen Of Air And Darkness – Cassandra Clare

“We are dust and shadows,” Emma said. “I guess we’re all ashes too.”

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Blurb: “Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined.”

It’s no secret that Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors and, like many, I have been sat impatiently waiting for the final instalment of The Dark Artifices series. This new aspect of the Shadowhunter world has not been plain sailing for me: I didn’t like the previous book and even in my reread in preparation of this release, I still didn’t rate it much. To me, it’s a series that peaked at the first book.

The first thing that really strikes me about this world is just how detailed it is. Cassandra Clare has stated in talks before that she’s a full on planner and it really shows in her writing. The Dark Artifices features her biggest cast of characters to date and she manages to ride that perfect balance of allowing each group the appropriate amount of readership time. It’s so intricate and carefully handled that I can’t help but marvel at it.

The blackthorns are reeling from a family tragedy and the many ways grief is explored throughout the book is painful to read but absolutely necessary. There’s a distinct shift in how Dru and Ty deal with the loss compared to Julian and the older siblings and all of it was so beautifully done. Consistently, Mark Blackthorn has been my favourite character and his overall growth throughout the series has been an absolute treat and, dare I say it, he may be up there with Alec Lightwood as my favourite Shadowhunter character. He’s come such a long way from the sugar incident in Lady Midnight to protecting his siblings with his life and I just adore everything about him. In fact, love triangles are one of my least favourite tropes but my favourite segments to read were any scenes with Kieran, Christina and Mark. The growth and development there was, again, beautiful to read. I also loved seeing a bisexual character exploring relationships with both men and women.

The Clave are a government body that have always absolutely terrified me and this book was no different. If anything, they really ramped up the fear factor. As lot of their decisions feel all too familiar from our world with talks of walls to keep certain species out, creating registries and handing out numbers to identify Downworlders. I love seeing politics in other world and it was fascinating to have the character of Diana through which to see these Clave events play out.

However, at 800 pages, Queen Of Air and Darkness really feels its length. I had periods where it just felt like a slog to get through and I really didn’t enjoy the majority of Part Two and find myself getting distracted by other things. I’m not really a big fan of “alternate reality” stuff within an author’s work and, minus one particular factor, it just didn’t feel like the reader gained much apart from an long drawn out “what could have been” segment. And frankly, if I wanted to see that I would turn to fan fiction. Also I read this via ebook and there were a lot of typo errors.

It’s sad to say goodbye to another area of this world, but with the news of The Last Hours due to be released next year, I won’t have long to wait before I delve back in!

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

More Happy Than Not – Adam Silvera

From the shapes cast by the green paper lantern, you would never know that there were two boys sitting closely to one another trying to find themselves. You would only see the shadows hugging, indiscriminate.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto is struggling to find happiness after a family tragedy leaves him reeling. He’s slowly remembering what happiness might feel like this summer with the support of his girlfriend Genevieve, but it’s his new best friend, Thomas, who really gets Aaron to open up about his past and confront his future.

As Thomas and Aaron get closer, Aaron discovers things about himself that threaten to shatter his newfound contentment. A revolutionary memory-alteration procedure, courtesy of the Leteo Institute, might be the way to straighten himself out. But what if it means forgetting who he truly is?”

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, assault, homophobia and self-harm

More Happy Than Not was the first book Adam Silvera released and sadly only found its home in the US book market. As word started to bubble around his stories on the social media channels, his follow up book History Is All You Left Me received a much wider release and was the first book of his that I read. Link to my review of that can be foundhere. Now his debut has found home in the UK and I decided to give it a go.

The Leteo Institutes offer individuals the chance to forget by wiping their memories for a plethora of reasons. There is some exposure to how this affects the wider society such as protests outside the buildings demanding that criminals be banned from using the procedures. But for the most part this initial hook falls by the wayside and is never really mentioned, minus an incident with a friend, until it becomes relevant to Aaron and his story.

Aaron, the protagonist, is a character that I kept going back and forth on. I just didn’t really connect with him, but a lot of that could be down to the fact that, minus questioning your sexuality, I don’t have much in common with a gay sixteen year old boy. Through the course of the story, he struggles a lot: from the aforementioned sexuality, struggles with money and not really coping his dad’s suicide. Then he meets Thomas who starts to take an interest and understands him in a way that Aaron’s friends never cared to. I expected to root for them to be together. But minus Aaron, all the other side characters such as Aaron’s current girlfriend, Gen, felt very flat and two-dimensional.

Instead of asterisks to signify a time jump, emojis were used instead. This might seem a bit out of place but for the respective parts and overall arc, it was a small bit of formatting that made quite an impact.

The first half of this book is a real slog. And I mean it really does drag. At about the 100 page mark I was starting to wonder if anything was actually going to happen, and if I’d been juped. But it is worth persevering for what takes place in the latter half. As I mentioned at the start of the review, there are a lot of triggers: The father’s suicide is mentioned throughout and eventually shown in detail and I wish I’d been made aware of it before reading. There’s homophobic fuelled attacks and a lot of very sad moments but it shows what can happen when someone is pushed to their limits and it’s worth sticking out for. (But of course, please practice self-care!)

The blurb for More Happy Than Not is one of those that really does the book a disservice. It’s raw and emotional at times, and completely surprises you.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

City Of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

“I have one foot in winter and one in spring. One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”

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Blurb: “Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.”

Schwab continues to build her incredible writing career by not putting too many eggs in one basket: From Adult Fantasy to Young Adult Supernatural and now Children’s Fiction, it really does seem like she can turn her hand to anything. City of Ghosts has the author’s usual flare and incredibly world-building that makes so many readers pick up her new books, no matter what they are, and with a large portion of the story being set in Edinburgh, where Schwab partly resides, it feels very familiar.

Sadly, there’s been a fair amount of criticism that the book is too “simple.” While the storyline is very focused and streamlined, it’s important to remember that the target audience is children. But, as you will have gathered from my blog, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

The protagonist, Cassidy, can see ghosts and has been able to ever since she was rescued from death by her ghost friend Jacob. She is also able to temporarily enter the Veil (the ghost world) if she finds herself in the place where somebody died. But even in her own world she feels the tap-tap-tap of someone on the veil the same way other may experience a chill when walking through a known haunted place. The world building is just incredible. It’s easy to distinguish when she in the respective world and the building pressure not to stay in the veil for too long.

I found it really interesting to have a duo at the forefront of a story where one of them is a ghost and it sets up interesting questions for the sequel. Jacob is connected to both worlds and to Cassidy which of course makes them best friends, and he accompanies her on every adventure delivering the typical wit you’d expect from a sidekick. The big, almost joke throughout the story is that Cassidy’s parents can’t see ghosts, don’t believe in them but also make money from writing books about them; which extends to a TV show and becomes the reason they temporarily move to Scotland. Whereas Cassidy can see and interact with ghosts but doesn’t want to write about them and, because of her age, when she accidently addresses Jacob when others are around, it’s simply put down to her “talking to an imaginary friend.”

Of course, every good story needs a villain. Enter the Raven In Red (who I won’t delve too much into because spoilers). She is quite simply terrifying and gave me heavy Coraline vibes. She helped build to an epic and equally terrifying conclusion and, as regular readers know all too well, Schwab makes the best villains.

There’s a few culture references made to things like Peter Pan and Harry Potter which were nice to see and made the story feel more centred in our world. I did have a few issues reading as my copy had a few formatting issues so I’m not sure if it’s a batch problem or just issues with my copy, but it did take me out of the book a few times.

Ghosts galore, incredible world building, City of Ghosts is a fantastic addition to the children’s fiction shelves.

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