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 Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook Of The Month | The Disasters

After reading the many blog posts from an array of wonderful reviewers sharing their anticipated reads for the year, I stumbled across The Disasters by M.K.England which is a Young Adult Sci-Fi novel comprising of a diverse cast from Muslim characters, to Asian characters and British Characters, to gay and bisexuals all wrapped up in the domain of space.

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I’ve mentioned many a time before that Sci-fi is a genre that I often struggle with, but the concept of this group of teens being the only survivors from a terrorist attack on a space academy, and then being framed for the crime, was enough to make me want to dive in.

For the most part, The Disasters is within the realms of what I can handle. The protagonist, Nax, is from Earth and so is the team he acquires, so there are lots of pop culture references such as Harry Potter. While I really appreciated this because it doesn’t make the story too dense, I have found that it’s hard to distinguish where in the universe they are because their current location on this brand new planet feels too much like Earth. In fact, I sometimes forget that they’re not until one of the characters starts to talk about how they miss their family on Earth.

The tagline for this book also got me excited: “Space is hard. Grab a helmet” sounds like the reader is about to endure extreme, nail-biting space battles. Sadly, that is not the case and instead it’s just a lot of the characters sitting around until everything blows over. At a quite short audiobook (8 hours), I can’t imagine that much of what is seemingly promised is going to come to fruition.

At the time of writing this post I am 56% in.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What audiobooks are you listening to at the moment?

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 Charlotte Writes Things

Charlotte Writes Things | An Introduction

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I’ve wanted to start a series about writing for a while but held back for a multitude of reasons. Among them are niggles like: would anyone actually care? Will I bin it off when I burn myself out for trying to do too much on my blog at once? And will people just roll their eyes thinking that I’m another “book blogger turned writer”? But then I sat back and remembered that I’ve been a writer for longer than I’ve been  book blogger, and I’ve been a reader for longer than I have a writer. And also it’s kind of fundamental to be a reader if you’re going to be a writer. So, anyway, I’ve pushed those thoughts aside and I present to you Charlotte Writes Things (yes, very on brand and took me two seconds to come up with).

A lot of my writing journey has been accidental. By that I mean, a lot of how I’ve grown as a writer, minus the University side of things where I did joint honours in Creative Writing and English Literature, hasn’t been planned. I just wrote stories. Ridiculous ones from a young age, writing them more for me than to be read by anyone else (though there was one time I sold copies of my book to people in primary school for a pound each). I just wrote stories more about myself in certain situations and working out how I would handle them before I moved on to characters that had barely any of me in them; those kind of people I only wished I could be. It was only really when my mother approached me during my A-Levels with a list of universities she’d found that did joint honours Creative Writing that I realised that I could actually bring what I loved into the education sphere, but that I also had the support of a parent in what I wanted to hopefully make some money from in the future.

As I’ve said, my own story is littered with accidents. I was still just writing stories and thrown into uncomfortable writing situations at University where I was expected to write in styles I’d never tried and from briefs that didn’t interest me. It wasn’t until someone I knew told me that I had to read this John Green book called The Fault In Our Stars, and I did, that I discovered that I’d actually been writing Young Adult stories without actually realising. So naturally, I threw myself into everything I could find on those shelves in bookstores, desperate to work my way through everything I had missed out on. I’d mainly just read early teen books and Harry Potter over and over up until this point. It wasn’t until I started reading The Mortal Instruments series in preparation for the film adaptation that I discovered that, not only do I write Young Adult, I also wanted to write fantasy as well. See? Accident after accident.

Some things have obviously been more planned. Such as this blog to try and create a presence online, finding the online YA book community and, while I promise that I do try to write my stories following a plan, I often stray off the path and barely recognise them by the end of it.

So I’m starting a new series and I plan to cover a whole range of topics from planning to drafting, authors that inspire me, and querying as I plan to bite that bullet in 2019. If there’s anything you’d like to see me talk about to do with writing, please let me know!

Here’s to another long writing year!

Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Tears – Katharine & Liz Corr

“There was a photo of Merry and her brother on her bedside table. In the photo, Leo was smiling. She tried-failed to recall the last time she’d seen him look that happy. Today was the first morning of the summer holidays. But the brighter the sunshine, the more they both seemed to be lost in the shadow.”

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Blurb: “It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Just ask Merry. She’s drowning in textbooks and rules set by the coven; drowning in heartbreak after the loss of Jack. But Merry’s not the only one whose fairy tale is over. Big brother Leo is falling apart and everything Merry does seems to push him further to the brink. And everything that happens to Leo makes her ache for revenge. So when strangers offering friendship show them a different path they’d be mad not to take it…”

After reading The Witch’s Kiss, I knew that I had to jump into the next book immediately, and thankfully I was smart enough to buy the whole series because I was that sure I’d love it.

The Witch’s Kiss takes place shortly after the events of the previous book and the emotions are still raw. Merry and her brother, Leo, become divided as they try to process what happened: Merry is embracing her powers and getting trained by the coven and her Grandma, while Leo – who has become resentful of witches – is mourning the loss of someone close to him and starting to explore his sexuality more. This book is a slow burn as it focuses more on shaping the characters and feeling into their development than overwhelming the reader with plot and not giving the characters that much needed time to recover. In fact, this book isn’t what I expected at all and that is a good thing. I feel like I left the reading experience knowing much more about the characters and how their minds work and feel closer to them for it.

As the story muddles through the recovery process, Leo meets a wizard called Ronan who he feels connected to and begins to explore the possibility of a romantic relationship. Merry is naturally suspicious which only furthers the gap between them. He was a really interesting addition to the series and gave me certain vibes and had me almost giving the side-eye as I continued through the plot. However, it was nice to see someone appearing to care about Leo and take the time to get to know him.

When witches begin to disappear without a trace and it appears to mimic something that’s happened before, the plot takes a direction I never could have prepared myself for. Katharine and Liz Corr do a fantastic job of planting the little seeds along the way in those quieter moments to the point where the story hits its climax and I was left cursing myself for not working things out sooner.

The Witch’s Kiss is a fantastic sequel and I cannot wait to dive into the next one.

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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 contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Odd One Out – Nic Stone

“None of this is simple as we want it to be. And I think that should be okay. Being who you are and losing who you love may not be easy, but it’s always worthwhile.” – Author Note

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Blurb: “Courtney “Coop” Cooper: Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin: I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez: The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story. Three sides. No easy answers.”

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

Like her debut, Dear Martin (of which my review can be found here), the topic of her latest book is something close to Nic Stone’s heart. In her acknowledgements, she talks openly about her own struggles with sexuality and why she felt it important to add to the growing list of LGBT titles for Young Adult readers.

Odd One Out is told through three perspectives: Courtney who is in love with his lesbian best friend, Jupiter. New girl Rae who kind of loves both of them, and Jupiter who thinks she likes Rae but really like Courtney. On top of this, Courtney appears to have this sense of ownership over Jupiter as if, despite her being unobtainable, she is meant to be his and Jupiter is struggling with her sexuality as she experiences that same desire of ownership for Courtney, and Rae is stuck in the middle. Basically, it’s one giant complicated love triangle.

Normally I’m very wary of multiple perspective stories because it’s rare that I like them all. In this case, I found some to be weaker than others and my favourite ended up being Jupiter. She’s a big fan of the rock band Queen which feeds a lot into her narrative and it made her more fleshed out than the other characters because she stood on her own separate to them. It made her feel more like a real teenager. Also her struggles with sexuality were very relatable: she identifies as lesbian but begins to worry about whether that label fits and if she will add fuel to the stigma that LGBT teens are just seeking attention or “waiting to be turned.” I could just feel the hurt she was going through and I was powerless to help her. I also think that she experiences the most character growth overall. Rae is of the similar vein; battling with the bisexual label and the ever-present stigma that she doesn’t want to validate. In fact, the only one who is firmly comfortable in their sexuality is Courtney.

This book also features awkward sex scenes combined with the handling of consent which is really nice to see becoming more common in YA books. It just came across really natural and authentic in the scenes and added to the characters experiences.

Another important point to note is how it’s shown that everyone experiences situations differently and this book does a fantastic job of showing how a character perceives an event compared to how it actually exists.

Once again, Nic Stone proves that she is a writer very much worth watching.

For more of my reading adventures follow me on Goodreads

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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 Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook Of The Month | Six Of Crows

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It felt like January was going to last forever, and now it feels like every time I blink it’s a new month and time to pick another audiobook to listen to.

My selection for August is a rather popular one in the YA book community, but also one that I’ve been incredibly wary about delving into. Naturally, books with a lot of hype around them can go one of two ways for me, and more often it tends to be that I don’t like them. I’ve downloaded the chapter sampler many times for Six of Crows and wasn’t able to stick with it. As the audiobook has multiple narrators, I decided to give it a go in a different format and see if that makes any difference to my enjoyment.

Six of Crows is essentially one big heist mission in which the typical brooding YA male, Kaz Brekker, is the leader and facing the delicious prospect of a lot of money if he succeeds. It’s set in the Grisha universe, although it’s not required for you to have read Leigh Bardugo’s other series in order to get your footing in this story.

So far, the world-building is super intriguing and it’s interesting seeing all the different motivations the characters have for agreeing to do the mission. However, Kaz seems to be the only real prominent voice and he just oozes all the stereotypes you’d expect from a YA male; he reminds me a lot of Jace Wayland in The Mortal Instruments series. It’s not fully engaging me at the moment so if I had stuck with the book I think I would have put it down, but it’s still the early stages and I expect it will pick up soon. At the time of writing this I am only 30% into it. So we’ll see!

Have you read Six of Crows?

Let me know your thoughts!