Book Review: Charlotte Says (Alex Bell)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: September 7th 2017

Summary (From Goodreads):

Following the death of her mother in a terrible fire, Jemima flees to the remote Isle of Skye, to take up a job at a school for girls. There she finds herself tormented by the mystery of what really happened that night.
Then Jemima receives a box of Frozen Charlotte dolls from a mystery sender and she begins to remember – a séance with the dolls, a violent argument with her step-father and the inferno that destroyed their home. And when it seems that the dolls are triggering a series of accidents at the school, Jemima realizes she must stop the demonic spirits possessing the dolls – whatever it takes.

Continue reading “Book Review: Charlotte Says (Alex Bell)”

Book Review: Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls (Lynn Weingarten)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 352

Release Date: July 2nd 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

When June met Delia, she was a lifeline. Their intense friendship gave her a sense of belonging, of security, that she’d never had before. She felt braver, smarter, funnier, more attractive when Delia was around. But then something went wrong, and Delia and June haven’t spoken for a year when an announcement is made at their school that Delia is dead.

June barely has time to mourn before Delia’s ex-boyfriend convinces her that Delia didn’t kill herself but was in fact murdered, and June is fast swept into a tangle of lies and deceit – and a conspiracy she can barely conceive of, never mind believe.

Review:

I’ve seen this book described as Gone Girl meets 13 Reasons Why, and as I have read neither of those, it meant nothing to me, but I’ve heard other people say the comparison basically leads to some massive spoilers and ruins the plot twist. So now I think I know what happens in Gone Girl

This book was quite a rollercoaster, of action and emotions. It moved pretty quickly from one thing to the next and never failed to keep me engaged. The story was told in a mixture of present day action and flashbacks, which I thought worked really well. The flashbacks gave a great insight into June and Delia’s friendship – this made it easier to understand June’s grief. It can be hard when one character starts off dead to really see the bonds, but the little snippets from years back showed that perfectly.

I thought I had the book sussed out and had all my theories sorted when suddenly – WHAM CRASH BANG – everything changes. I wasn’t entirely sure about the twist at first, as I’d been quite happy the way things were progressing and it kind of turned it into a different book for me. But as it got towards the end I settled down with it and really enjoyed just how damn crazy things had gotten.

The ending really took me by surprise. It felt very subtle, and a natural – although sad – progression of events. I thought it could be interpreted in different ways as well, and I quite enjoyed that, rather than having everything spelled out for you.

The writing was really beautiful too. It just flowed and created very powerful pictures. This was a really easy read with an intense plot and some really special relationships explored.

My Verdict:

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like The Memory Hit by Carla Spradbery

Book Review: Fire Colour One (Jenny Valentine)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 256

Release Date: July 2nd 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

A teenage girl will soon discover, there are some things which burn even brighter than fire.

Iris’s father Ernest is at the end of his life.

Her best friend Thurston seems like a distant memory to her.

Her mother has declared war. She means to get her hands on Ernest’s priceless art collection so that she can afford to live the high life.

But Ernest has other ideas.

There are things he wants Iris to know. Things he can tell her and things that must wait till he’s gone.

What she does after that is up to her.

Review:

After reading this book and before writing this review, I Googled the painting by Yves Klein that this book is named after. It’s a really stunning piece and I’d recommend having a look if you’re reading this book. The book isn’t about the painting but it is mentioned a fair bit, and it helps to know what it looks like.This is another of those books that hits you right in the feels as we see Iris finally getting acquainted with her father, just as he’s about to die. You know from the start that he’s dying, but it’s still upsetting when he does, but the revelations after his death made the wound even more tender.

This book is beautifully written with some really vivid descriptions and spectacular characters. Seriously, the way they’re written is so real I wanted to reach out and hug some and slap others. Iris’ mother and step father, Hannah and Lowell are truly horrid creatures and their blatant money grabbing and carelessness in the face of Ernest’s death was really infuriating. Iris’ best friend, Thurston, on the other hand is wonderfully weird and I loved reading the ‘moments’ he creates for people, even if they did seem a little too marvellous to be true.

It was also interesting to see Iris’ pyromaniac antics from her point of view. Although it’s not something I’ve thought about much before, when I have, I’ve never really understood the appeal of making fires: I thought it was for trouble makers and attention seekers, which is a pretty narrow minded view (I think I’ll do some research into it, actually). But seeing why she started fires and how they made her feel made me see it in a whole new light.

I loved that the book surprised me at the end: I thought I knew where it was going, but it sure fooled me. It was wonderful to see Iris really learn about her father, even after he was gone, and (minor spoiler here beware!) I loved knowing that Hannah and Lowell didn’t get the best of him after all.

While a book about the death of a parent is bound to be sad, I did find it quite uplifting too: it’s not depressing, just emotional, and a whole different range of emotions at that. It’s beautifully written and very touching, and I’d definitely recommend.

My Verdict:

4

Top Five… Books About Death and Grief

It’s not exactly a cheery topic, but I wanted to write about my favourite books which deal with death, and grief as a result of that. A lot of them are ones that a year ago I would have avoided (I was on a strict no contemporary diet!) but I’ve read some incredible books on the subject lately and wanted to share.


Warning: There may be a few spoilers ahead. Sorry!
5


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Abbie Rushton

The death in this book happens before the story starts, and we see the effect it has on the protagonist. Megan’s grief and guilt make her close off on all fronts: to friends, her mother and even to herself, as she finds herself unable to speak. Her story is one on the road to acceptance and recovery and is a really touching one.
4


Sarah Benwell
This book is as much about life as it is about death. I liked how non-preachy it felt and, controversial though it may be, the ending felt very right to me, as did the friends reactions to it. The idea of the Suicide Club emails really helps to showcase different ideas on death.
3

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Clare Furniss
This was on my Top Five last week as well but I couldn’t write this list without it. Again, it’s the raw honesty of the book and the way it shows Pearl’s grief that makes it so good. There’s nothing glamorous about it and there’s no closure as such, just the first steps on the road to acceptance.


2



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Patrick Ness

This one’s a little different from the others, in that it’s the protagonists death we’re dealing with, and it may not even be their death (I know that’s confusing if you haven’t read it but it’s hard to explain). I enjoyed the idea of looking at life from death’s perspective, rather than the other way round.
1


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Jandy Nelson

This book just blew me away in the way it dealt with death and Lennie’s grief. I felt this was one of the ones I related to the most. Her feelings of guilt at any sign of happiness, as if enjoying something was betraying her sister’s memory and belittling her death, was achingly familiar and so refreshing to read. 

Which books have you enjoyed (if that’s the right word?!) on the subject of death?


Book Review: The Year of the Rat (Clare Furniss)


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Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 352
Release Date: January 1st 2014
Summary (From Goodreads):

To Pearl, there’s nothing sweet about her premature half-sister, Rose. It was Rose that caused her mother’s death and Rose that turned her world upside down.

To Pearl, Rose is The Rat.
Achingly sad, yet refreshingly real, The Year of The Rat will make you laugh, cry and hold your loved ones a little bit tighter.

Review:

I don’t know why I keep reading these books about grief that make my heart ache so. But I do, and I’ve found yet another one that is beautifully written and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, despite expecting it to not be ‘my kinda thing’.

My favourite thing about this book was how raw and honest it felt. Pearl’s grief is ugly and she has thoughts that you wouldn’t ever tell anyone and that’s why it’s so important to read a book like this. Because no one is alone in these ugly thoughts, and it’s a relief to hear someone else having them.

I didn’t always like Pearl, but I always felt empathy for her, which I think was the important point. She did do some things which I struggled to understand, but I guess that’s what grief can do to you. I really wanted her to love her sister, and felt like she was warming towards her by the end, but I could see how difficult it would be, considering the situation.

The other characters in the book were all lovable in their own way, from Pearl’s step-dad who tried so hard to keep everything together, even as Pearl pushed him away, to her rather overbearing Grandmother who means well, and her dead mother who tries to make light of even the most serious of situations.

Although it’s very sad, this is also a really warming read. I think the best thing about it is that, by the end, Pear isn’t over her mother’s death. She’s ready to accept that she’s gone, but it doesn’t try and make out that everything is okay: it’s still only the beginning of a long and painful journey, but we’ve seen a tiny part of Pearl’s grief road.

My Verdict:




Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!




If you enjoyed this, you may also like The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson


Book Review: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads
#RandomReads

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Publisher: Black Swan
Pages: 560
Release Date: September 2005
Summary (From Goodreads):

HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES
Review:

I have a bit of a history with this book, which I will be posting about in my Random Reads discussion next week. I was pleased when Stacie chose it for me to read, as it’s been so long since I first read it that I can’t really remember what I thought of it.

For anyone who doesn’t know (and hasn’t read the summary above), one of the most interesting things about this book is its narrator. Rather than being narrated by Liesel, the protagonist, her story is told through the eyes of Death, who watches Liesel and visits her three times.

This is a really different quirk and Death’s narrative voice adds a lot to the story. The book is full of rich metaphors that I think work well because they’re told from the point of view of someone who isn’t human, or seeing things like us. Death notices colours a lot and describes things in a way we probably wouldn’t.

This is a good point and a bad one in my mind, as, while sometimes I think it creates a really beautiful picture of what’s happening, other times I feel like I’m trawling through metaphor after simile after metaphor. It all got a bit much after a while, and I sometimes found myself pausing to puzzle over what a metaphor actually meant, which brought me out of the story.

The second world war setting, along with Death narration, brings something very ominous to the story. You know vaguely where it’s going to go – not in a predictable way, just in a ‘Oh no, awful things are going to happen’ kind of way. It also creates characters that you can’t help but love in that difficult position. A favourite for me is Hans, Liesel’s adoptive Papa who comforts her in her nightmares, teaches her to read and disagrees with the Nazi party, even as he tries to placate them to keep his family safe. It’s a complicated situation, one impossible to win really, but he tries so hard to do the right thing.

Liesel herself is a great protagonist – strong, smart, and ultimately flawed in a way that makes her relatable. Sometimes she says awful thing because she is unhappy, she does or doesn’t do things she regrets, and that just makes her all the more loveable.

I sometimes found the language a little jarring – often people will say something in German, and then the translation is given too, as if they said that as well. This probably annoys me because I speak German so it was like reading the same phrase/similar thing twice, but when the majority of dialogue is in English it did feel a bit odd.

The ending is a really bitter sweet one. Which is how I often say I like my endings, although this one has a lot more for the bitter and a lot less of the sweet. But there’s something about it that makes me not want to describe it as wholly sad. But you shall have to read and judge for yourself, I don’t want to spoil anything here!

This is a really beautiful book and you can see why it appeals to adults and younger readers alike, and why it is so internationally read. Reading after such a long time has been like reading it for the first time and I can safely say now it is definitely a book I enjoy, just a little heavy handed with the metaphors for me.

My Verdict:


Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Check out Stacie’s review of The Book Thief here

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson)

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: February 5th 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lennie Walker spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to centre stage of her own life – and suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two boys. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow; the other comforts her in it. But the two can’t collide without Lennie’s world exploding…

Review:

Ugh this book hurt my heart so much.

I had no idea what it was about when I picked it up, and after glancing at the back and realising a love triangle was about to happen, I wasn’t too keen (anyone who’s read any of my reviews will realise by now I have a bit of a problem with the love triangle trend). I wasn’t going to let that stop me having a go though.

While the love triangle does play a big part in the story, it’s not like one I’ve ever read before. Not only is it completely organic – you can see why the attraction to both boy’s has started, and the different appeal of both of them – but it also doesn’t feel like one of them has just been shoved in there to create some tension. This is a love triangle that works.

The book is full of kooky characters who are all a bit larger than life: Gram, Big, and the ever present Bailey, who is a character alive as any of the others, even though her death is announced in the first paragraph. It’s this that makes the pain of losing her so real: she’s not just an unknown character who’s dead before the story starts. She’s real and it hurts.

This is a love story, but it’s also about grief, and how to cope when the worst thing happens. It’s not full of answers on what to do in that situation – because there is, unfortunately, no magic answer – but it does end feeling more positive. Lennie’s attempts to deal with her grief may not seem natural to her but everyone deals with things in different ways, whatever you can to feel better and start moving on, even if moving on feels like betrayal.

That’s what gripped me emotionally with the book: it was Lennie’s guilt whenever she didn’t think about her dead sister, whenever she did something that might have upset Bailey, whenever she enjoyed herself without her. It’s so easy to get lost in grief and feel as if you should wear it around you at all times, when in reality you should just take those periods where it isn’t clouding you as relief, not as proof you’re a terrible person and forgetting you’re bereaved too quickly.

The ending almost had me in tears, which is very rare for me. When Lennie, finally has it out with Gram and realises she’s not the only person hurting: I felt so choked up and just wanted to hug them both. I thought it was brave of Lennie to stay and apologise, because I could feel the urge to run and just keep running, and that’s always so hard to resist.

Scattered throughout the book are little poems that Lennie writes, and these really add to the grief and help to characterise her and Bailey’s relationship. There’s something infinitely romantic about writing down your feelings and scattering them to the wind, and I loved that it was her love for Bailey that was expressed in them. To me, the best love stories aren’t the typical ones, but those between family and friends.

This is a spectacularly emotional read, an unflinching look at grief that will really tug at your heartstrings, but also make you smile as well.  

My Verdict:

4
If you enjoyed this, you may also like The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell

Book Review: More Than This (Patrick Ness)

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Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 480
Release Date: September 10th 2013
Summary (From Goodreads):

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.
Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.
How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?
As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

Review:

I’ve been a big Patrick Ness fan since the Chaos Walking trilogy: I loved them as a teenager and still do today. I decided to read more of his work this year and started with A Monster Calls which just reminded me how brilliant he is. 

I went into this book with both high expectations and a worry that it wouldn’t live up to those expectations. I needn’t have worried, Ness is a master story teller and I was sucked into this world almost as much as I was in The Knife of Never Letting Go.

The book has a mystery element to it that I really enjoyed: you’re constantly wondering where he is, what’s happened, what’s the deal with Owen, what’s real and what’s not? And, the thing that I found most interesting (and weirdly satisfying) is that not all of them are answered. This may annoy some people and the ending might not feel satisfying, but I felt that it would have been spoiled if everything was wrapped up and explained nicely. I enjoyed the open-ended-ness.

The theory I enjoyed most was that Seth had made everything up: some things happened that seemed too convenient to him, and he begins to suspect that he’s actually controlling events around him, as though he’s in a story. It made me question coincidences in other stories and think about patterns of events that seem to convenient. But, even when he think he’s in control, nothing goes to plan. There are so many surprises and twists – in true Patrick Ness style – that makes it almost hard to keep up.

The emotional storyline is tense and honest and oh so painful. I really felt for the way Seth had grown up with the secret of his choice weighing heavily on him, while his parents could barely look at him. Whether that was from their own pain or underlying anger at him, it doesn’t matter, it’s still terrible to grow up with that burden.

Seth really grows throughout the book, and, aided by Tomasz and Regine, the friends he makes (who he may or may not have made up) he becomes less self-centred. My one problem with him was the way/reason he died. Compared to Tomasz and Regine, his reasons seem poor. I understand there’s different kinds of pain and that he felt lost, but it angered me that he gave up for something that I didn’t see as a good enough reason. Either that’s me being harsh, or I just didn’t connect well enough with relationships…

Ness once again proves that YA novels are about substance and can be as thought provoking and important as any adult novel. He creates characters that are so real you can feel their pain, and he delivers a story that will make you question everything long after you’ve finished reading. I can’t wait to read more from him.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Book Review: Frozen Charlotte (Alex Bell)

 

Details:

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 368

Release Date: 5th January 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

We’re waiting for you to come and play.

Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind…

Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lilias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.

Review:

I read this book in two sittings and absolutely loved it. It draws you in with a creepy prologue that sets up the events perfectly and then launches straight into the story: there’s no hanging around here, it’s pretty much suspense and weird happenings all the way through and it’s perfect.Sophie was a perfect narrator to guide you through the story. Her reactions to the events were very realistic, which I think can be hard to do when writing a modern ghost story. It’s so easy to be skeptical of events and a narrator who believed them too quickly would be jarring, but Sophie had just the right amount of denial and then slow realisation of the reality of her situation.

I loved each of the cousins for their unique characterisation and really enjoyed not knowing who to trust. I found Piper a little flat at first: she seemed to be a bit of writer’s convenience at first as she explained a lot of back story and mythology but she soon fleshed out and became one of my favourite characters.

And then the Frozen Charlotte dolls themselves. They are creepy as hell and the fact that they’re real made them all the more spooky. I love the idea of the author turning the old song and Victorian dolls into this wonderfully scary story. They were amazing villains and I actually felt afraid to leave my room when I finished reading late at night. I could almost feel their tiny cold hands on me and I was terrified of what they’d do to me in my sleep.

I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys horror stories or is looking to try something a little different. It’s a thrilling journey with a fast pace and a lot of twists that will keep you guessing right until the end. Just don’t read it in an empty house in the dark as I did!

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

If you liked this, you might also enjoy The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

Book Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter (Melinda Salisbury)

Publisher: Scholastic UK

Pages: 336

Release Date: 5th February 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.

She’s the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favour of a doomed love?

Review:

I was lucky enough to receive this book from the author (through a competition on Twitter) Along with a copy of the book, I got a signed proof copy and some other lovely bits and pieces too.

I am drawn in instantly by the cover (the colours are just beautiful) and by the idea as well: the quote on the proof copy reads ‘I am the perfect weapon. I kill with a single touch.‘ Along with some hype that’s gone on around it on Twitter I was all set to read and love this book.

And that is exactly what I did.

Twylla, the protagonist, is well rounded in a way that I haven’t seen in many books lately. While being likeable and believable, she has real emotions and flaws that hold her back and have a major impact on her life and how she’s living it. It’s interesting to watch her develop over the book and eventually start taking some control for herself. I hope that in the sequels, (which I can’t wait for) we’ll see her growing into herself more.

The world creation is beautifully done. There’s a lot of information to take in but it’s drip fed slowly and steadily, with little reminders throughout the book so you never forget what world you’re in and what the rules are. Speaking of which – and without giving too much away – I admire a writer who can create and then break rules in the way that’s done here. It makes for great twists and turns in the book and really shows how clever you can be with your own world if you know what you’re doing.

What really made the world feel real and rounded was the mythos: the religion, the Gods, the fairytales. It’s just enough information to bring the world to life. I was really intrigued by the idea of ‘Sin Eating’ and would love to hear more about it. Twylla’s mother as the Sin Eater was an excellent character who both repelled and fascinated me.

I’ll admit to being the teensiest bit irritated by the love triangle that formed, not because it wasn’t believable and intense and everything, but because it feels like love triangles are almost mandatory in YA novels at the moment. But that’s only the briefest if niggles: it’s integral to the plot and has its own series of twists and turns. I love that, like Twylla, both contenders for her heart are deeply flawed and neither is the obvious choice or knight in shining armour that you might expect.

I’d say it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year (I know it’s only February but I’ve read a fair amount and only one other got five star). If you like a beautifully crafted world full of its own mythos, with an deep and intricate plot then this is for you. It stands well alone as a novel as well as the first in a series and it’s definitely one to read immediately.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit
Check out my soundtrack for The Sin Eater’s Daughter here