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Across Worlds

On the Other Side

Steady lights flickered across her closed eyelids, and in her ears she could hear the rhythmic hum and rattle of a train on its tracks.

They say you should never meet your heroes and as a huge admirer of Carrie Hope Fletcher, the quintessential role model for tweens, teens and this 20-something, I had been putting off reading her first foray into fiction for this very reason. And yet I bought a copy, a gorgeous purple-edged copy, and I eventually dared to read beyond the blurb in the hope that I would love On the Other Side as much as I love the author. There are some spoilers in this review so please be warned.

Evie Snow has lived a long and complicated life. At the age of 82, she passes away surrounded by her loving family but when she reaches the other side, she realises that in order to move forward, she has to look back and face what she has been desperately trying to forget…

Now this is a difficult review for me to write because whilst I did enjoy the unique magical realism of the story and the immersive feel of Carrie’s writing, I was immediately distracted by the choice of the author to write herself as the lead Evie Snow and her boyfriend-at-the-time, Pete Bucknall, as the romantic lead Vincent Winters. I know you should write what you know and that art imitates life but this obvious mirroring seemed unimaginative and a little narcissistic – two qualities I would never associate with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I hasten to add. I loved the little nod to her fan base that she includes within the story and didn’t even mind the obvious declaration of love to Pete in the lift graffiti (“CB luvs PF”) but having the two leads directly correlate to real life – from personality to physical characteristics – was just too much, even for this fangirl.

The lack of setting or time period is also where this book feels very confused. Fletcher creates a 1940s-style world where parents control their children with the threat of disinheritance and male bosses can freely sexually harass female employees without consequence and yet it is also a world modern enough to have skinny jeans, mobile phones and to openly accept all sexual preferences within society. There is the feeling that if On the Other Side is progressive enough to have openly bi-, pan- or homosexual characters, why is it still a world where parents can dictate who you marry and why isn’t Evie Snow strong enough to stand up for her own rights as much as she stands up for her brothers?

On the Other Side is riddled with wholesomeness and a continued feel of good-bad, right-wrong throughout, with characters being placed deliberately on one side of this stringent fence. This not only felt a little unrealistic but it also meant that by the end, I just couldn’t champion or support Evie. As someone who initially appears to be making choices to support a strong and independent woman, I couldn’t understand some of her later decisions and the fact she was making all these amends to her family by travelling back to the other side before raising the ultimate two fingers up at Jim was heart-breaking – I loved Jim!

To end on a positive, there are promising hints of authorship within On the Other Side. Fletcher’s style and tone of writing is engaging and she creates some really interesting ideas, balancing the fantastical with the ordinary with ease. It just needed a bit more time to develop and a historical context, along with a stronger editorial direction, would have lifted this book considerably. Even just a little more research would have given On the Other Side more authority and provided the well-written magical realism a springboard from which to jump. As it stands, it falls a little flat.

3 star

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Love In Absolute Certainty

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Thank you for choosing Match Your DNA, the world’s first scientifically proven test 100% guaranteed to match you with the one and only person you’re genetically designed to fall in love with.

There are several reasons why I was drawn to reading John Marrs’ The One. Firstly, I love a psychological thriller, particularly when I’m on holiday, and a week in Bordeaux made for the perfect setting to settle down with Marrs’ new book. Secondly, the premise seemed too intriguing not to pick it up, particularly as I met my boy online. If there were some way to push the boundaries of online dating even further and combine it with genetic absolute, surely everyone would want to try it, wouldn’t they?

Following five different Match Your DNA clients The One explores how absolute scientific certainty can affect relationships, dating and just how far some people will go for their ‘One’. Without wanting to include any spoilers, this book is far from the usual beach-read fodder – it takes you on an unpredictable thrilling journey through five different peoples lives and perspectives, all in the name of and quest for the ultimate – true love.

As with all multi-narrative tales there are, inevitably, some stories that work better than others. There was one story in The One that, for me, wasn’t as strong as the other four but fortunately that didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the book at all. I found the premise and characters (for the most part) absolutely gripping, with each story revealing a new angle or complication and I loved seeing how strongly ‘absolute science’ affects personal feeling.

From a more practical point of view, the format of this book makes it an ideal holiday read. The chapters are short and snappy, making it a perfect dip-in-and-out read whilst lounging on the beach, and yet the story is so unbelievably addictive that you’ll probably find yourself immersed until the end regardless!

4 star

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THUG Life

THUG

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

Regular readers of TTW know that I usually stay away from books that have hype surrounding their launch as I like the headspace to make my own mind up about them. But there was something about The Hate U Give that made me desperate to read it and now, having done so, I can say that the hype is justified. This book is important, relevant and heart-achingly good. Everyone should pick up a copy.

Starr Carter lives two lives – balancing her posh co-ed high school in the suburbs with her home life in one of the poorer neighbourhoods, the place where she was born and raised. She’s managing to keep the two successfully apart but one evening and one tragic incident will soon bring those walls that divide her lives crashing down and she has to decide to find her voice before she’s silenced…

Thomas’ debut novel is fearless. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it is both affecting and effective, drawing you deep into the heart of Starr’s world. It explores the fear, generosity, anger and loyalty a girl, family and community feel when it is threatened by injustice. It examines prejudice at every angle – from a figure of authority’s assumption of behaviour based on race to the issues surrounding couples of different ethnic backgrounds. At its heart, it is the tale of a sixteen year-old who witnesses the shooting of her friend but THUG actually explores much more about the world than we’d readily admit.

Unlike the central incident of the book, THUG is actually an incredibly balanced novel. It examines white privilege just as readily as it explores the problem of gang warfare. It is not anti-white or pro-black but rather calls for universal humanity, justice and consequence. It is as much a social and political commentary as it is a gripping and powerful narrative.

Starr is a wonderfully generous protagonist. She is unfiltered but neutral, seeing all sides of life at school, home and in her neighbourhood. I loved the complexity and honesty that Thomas captures in Starr – she is the only witness to the shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil, by a police officer and has to navigate the guilt, anger and injustice that begin to stand alongside her grief. Somehow she is able to find courage and conviction to go against the accepted authority and fight for what is right. She is an awesome and inspiring protagonist that you’ll root for time and again.

The Hate U Give brings today’s racial tensions and the issues associated with it to light in much in the same way Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird did. It’s just a shame that such a powerful book is still needed today. A fantastic and phenomenally successful novel, The Hate U Give is a book well worthy of its praise. Read it.

5 star

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Marked For Life

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I was older than all my friends when I got my first tattoo.

In the case of Alice Broadway’s debut novel, absolutely judge a book by its cover because this one is a stunner – look at all that beautiful foiling! Whilst I admit the cover drew me in, it was the blurb that made me desperate to read this book because the concept of Ink is fascinating…

Everyone is marked from birth. The stories of their lives are documented on their skin, with every significant moment illustrated for all to see. When a person dies, their skin is removed and made into a special book, a life laid bare. Each book is weighed and judged and, if deemed worthy, will sit in the homes of their ancestors forevermore. But when Leora’s father dies, she soon realises that his Skin Book has been edited and she’s not the only one who has noticed…

Engrossing and immersive, Ink tells the story of one girl’s struggle to understand a parent’s death and to come to terms with the idea that her father was a man not a hero. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has to come to terms with the fact that their parents aren’t perfect or invincible – that they keep secrets and have pasts too. Leora only starts to unveil the truth about her father when his Skin Book gets taken away for examination and she begins to realise the significance of one tiny, hidden tattoo.

The dystopian world Broadway creates within Ink is rich and bewitching. Big concepts such as the afterlife, religion, indoctrination and love are woven into the tale with astute awareness and sensitivity. Ironically in a book about death, there is so much life to the tale and the characters – as the opening book to the trilogy it builds Leora’s world and sets up the premise of the following two books without sacrificing its ability to entertain. The ending was so utterly empowering that I couldn’t help but compare and believe that Broadway was setting Leora up as a Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine for the next book and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Normally I wouldn’t read the opening to a trilogy until all three books were out – as an impatient person, I like to read all three in quick succession – but I couldn’t avoid opening Ink. Unique and addictive, Ink rises to a crescendo and leaves you desperate to see where Broadway is going to take us, and Leora, next.

4 star

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A Parisian Playground

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Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amélie and Moulin Rouge.

I was sure I wasn’t going to enjoy this book. The blurb had all the hallmarks of a Lindsey Lohan/Amanda Bynes/Hillary Duff 90s romcom and the book itself contains all the corresponding over-used stereotypes of a fairly ignorant American girl moving to Paris against her will but meeting a sophisticated and popular English (ish) boy called Étienne St. Clair (seriously!). And yet, despite that and in all honesty with hand on heart, I couldn’t put it down!

Anna and the French Kiss is a characterful read with an accessible and relatable protagonist – you can’t help but imagine yourself in Anna’s place within the pages. She’s in an alien environment, unsure and alone and in that all-too-familiar-way trying to find her voice and place in the world. Stuck between missing an old life and forging a new one, Anna soon finds the reason behind Paris’ romantic reputation and learns that it’s not all bad being forced to live in the French capital…

There are some books that read better when taken on face value – books where, if you scratch too hard beneath the surface, you could argue yourself out of ever having enjoyed it in the first place. Anna and the French Kiss is one of those books. It’s not trying to do anything complicated or complex, but rather tell an addictive story of teen romance. It’s a read to escape within, one that ticks all the boxes – pacey, accessible, Parisian – and yes there are clichés and hypocrisies, yes you know what the outcome will be and yes it is a bit predictable but it is still utterly scintillating!

Anna and the French Kiss is a book that truly demonstrates the phrase “it’s the journey, not the destination” – you may be able to see all too clearly where you’ll end up but it’s so much more about the captivatingly enjoyable tale of getting there!

4 star

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Frost Kings and Folklore

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It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

I know you should never judge a book by its cover but the stupendously striking cover brought The Bear and the Nightingale to my attention – isn’t it beautiful?! This tale is not only stunning on the outside but a fantastic tale of fantasy realism, set in medieval ‘Rus with a brilliantly headstrong protagonist to lead the way!

Katherine Arden delivers an astonishingly good read with her debut, mixing historical fiction with fantasy and depicting atmospheric medieval landscapes alongside ethereal Russian folklore. Using lyrical prose and a headstrong female protagonist, Arden manages to control and balance pace with atmosphere to create a truly magical read, rich with superstition and tradition.

I loved how easily Arden weaves fairy tale and folklore into the realism of Vasya’s world. Her language is poetic but not flowery and it creates a truly believable yet mysterious place to live within the pages. There are invading strangers, hidden secrets, manipulative shadows and untold pasts that take the reader on a fantastical adventure, one you’ll wish would never end.

The exploration of faith within The Bear and the Nightingale and the conflict between religious faith and ancient tradition is well established in Vasya’s world. The issues that arise when one tries to supersede the other for the community as well as the internal struggle for the characters is recognisable and helps to link this ancient tale to the modern world.

I read this book on my Kindle and it was only when I got to the end that I realised there was a glossary – people, there is a glossary! Reading without this didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book, I muddled through and made assumptions that were near enough correct, but the glossary sure would have helped so do use it when you pick up this astonishing and enchanting read!

4 star