His Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler

Published: 10th September 2019 (print)/10th September 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Flatiron Books/MacMillan Audio
Pages: 480/14 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Various
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Horror/Anthology/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

My main exposure to Poe has been the Simpsons and the amazing Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Dinner Party series on YouTube. But Poe is such a huge name in literature the references are often found in the most unlikely places. This retelling of Poe’s short stories are an amazing contribution to Poe’s legacy because they bring modernity to his tales while keeping the themes and the unnerving nature of his imagination to new audiences.

I loved the way these authors have retold the original stories. You can see the evidence of the original Poe stories coming through but the unique modern and not so modern settings these interpretations are divine. Some of the stories have a close similarity to the original Poe tales, others have a similarity that is easily recognisable, while others change completely but the theme and intention remains. The horror side is mild otherwise I wouldn’t be touching this, nothing overly grotesque but it is eerie and unsettling which is perfect for any Poe story. There’re sinister intentions and things from out of this world, but each of these authors tells stories that are modern, timeless, and in other realms altogether.

A rarity for an anthology I enjoyed all of these stories. Of course some were more engaging and intriguing than others, but I found that each story had its own curiosities that kept your mind working, especially as you think about what the original story is that they are retelling. Absolute stand outs for me include Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart)The Oval Filter (The Oval Portrait), and She Rode a Horse of Fire (Metzengerstein); and I loved the creativity of The Glittering Death (The Pit and the Pendulum)Changeling (Hop-Frog), and It’s Carnival! (The Cask of Amontillado). But there were so many other wonderful ones like Lygia (Lygia)Night-Tide (Annabel Lee), and The Fall of the Bank of Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) where each author brought their own styles and imagination into a story that I was amazed the same story could be told but in a completely new way. These authors have given voices to those who didn’t have a voice before. The first person nature of many of these stories allows insight into intent, thoughts, and justification which is fabulous considering some of the deeds depicted in these stories.

The audio version is narrated by each of the authors, telling their own tale to the listener. They also narrated the original Poe story that their reimagining is based on. I enjoyed listening to these authors read their own stories. They had good pace and range of voices which helps you enjoy the stories even more.

I do prefer the new versions, they bring modernity not necessarily in their settings or content, but in their language. Compared with Poe there is a lot less waffling and wordiness (looking at you The Purloined Letter) that is removed while still maintaining the theme and tone of the stories. That is to say some were quite enjoyable, they are dark and sinister, creative and poetic. It is easy to see why Poe’s stories have lived on. These retelling do that wonderfully, even if you don’t read the originals you can still enjoy these retellings, they keep Poe’s intentions alive and the haunting nature of some of these stories is still ever present.

You can purchase His Hideous Heart via the following

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The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

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You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/5th March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin/Penguin
Pages: 288/5 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, and how it didn’t become an Issue book, but at the same time I think it didn’t do enough to flesh out the issues it does raise. In essence it is a good story, there is a balance between Layla being the Minority Spokesperson but there is also a universal story about finding your place in the new school and being the awkward age of being a teenager.

Layla has dreams and she makes sacrifices to achieve those dreams. I like that there is a protagonist who isn’t shy and meek, or a full on fighter, she is loud and cheerful, which she is completely ok with, and she has goals.  She screams self-confidence and her Sudanese and Muslim traditions are part of her day and not huge plot points in the narrative, it’s a background part.

There are themes of ethnicity, belonging, family, and bullying which are all dealt with reasonably well. One thing doesn’t stand out as the main point of the book, they are all woven together like they are in life, coming and going and being ever present in the background. I did love that Layla doesn’t have to stop being a teenager to become a fighter against the bullying or an advocate for her heritage, she could just enjoy her life.

It pays to remember this is the narration of a thirteen year old girl and those around her are year eight students which is a great eye opener to the next generation because while some parts were reminding me of my own year eight experience, the language and the technology is a new experience. There are also great male/female friendships. I was worried at the start based on how Abdel-Magied introduced them, but it was great to see that girls and boys could be friends without it being an issue.

Unfortunately Abdel-Magied’s writing is not entirely seamless, there is some repetition and the language can be clunky. I didn’t mind the teen slang, it may date but that was fine. It was more that I think it needed another edit, needed to be refined a bit more. This is evident listening to the audiobook. Even though Abdel-Magied reads it herself, and she does a decent job, it makes you even more aware of the writing as it can be jarring at times and highlights the flaws.

It skirts along big issues but doesn’t focus on them any further. Initially a good idea, and while I am glad Layla and the book doesn’t become focused on those issues, by the end I think it needed a bit more depth and maybe more length. In a strange way it felt like the start of a series, that all the issues half introduced in this story would be addressed in the next book. There were a lot of issues half raised and I kept expecting certain things to have more of an impact.

One thing that irked me is I honestly can’t see how this can be classed as an LGBT book like I’ve seen when it happens in the last few pages of the book and has no effect on the plot whatsoever. It could be edited out and it would mean nothing. For all the parts that work, there are just as much that doesn’t. It’s a book that borders on two sets of audiences, kids and teenagers. Layla is 13 and I think anybody over that age won’t get as much out of it as those who are younger. There’s some great messages in there that suit the younger age bracket that can escape being brushed over with minimal depth.

You can purchase You Must Be Layla via the following

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Published: 5 September 2017 (print)/5 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperTeen/Harper Audio
Pages: 373/8 hrs and 30 mins
Narrators: Michael Crouch, Robbie Daymond, Bahni Turpin
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

I am so, so glad I kept reading this. I tried twice to get going but I don’t know whether it was too late at night or I wasn’t in the right mood on the day, but I almost didn’t keep reading. I’m glad I was rewarded for my persistence though because this is a beautiful story. This story answer the question about what would you do if you knew today would be your last day? Where would you go? What would you do? Who could you meet?

In this not so distant future the technology exists to let people know the day they will die. The problem is they don’t know until the day of when they get that fateful phone call. I loved that there was no explanation about how or why this system came into practice but it has been in long enough that people are used to it, but not so long either. I also loved how there were enough new technologies to allow people to experience things they never thought they would, and that society had evolved to allow spaces for those on their last days to enjoy themselves and be with others like them. This was also a brilliant way to explain and explore the world from so many different voices and experiences.

I will give away nothing but there is a beautiful heart in this story and with these characters. I loved the alternating points of view, not only from Rufus and Mateo but from the other perspectives we’re shown. Through these other eyes we see the wider world, other experiences and gain more insight into the way this future works with people knowing the day they will be dying. The three narrators do a fantastic job. Each one brings a different approach for their roles which makes the right tones sit with the right moments. Turpin’s role is separate from Daymond and Crouch but it still helps create a fantastic mood for this story. Daymond and Crouch bring these boys to life and I loved that I was caught up in the story and their narration allowed me to get lost in the story and not focus on anything else.

This is a story about connections and life and not even so much as living it like it is your last day regardless but also about making whatever you do count. Make it matter. There’s a mixture of opinion about whether it is better to know when you will pass away, and if you must know, certainly knowing a future date is better than knowing the day of. I loved there is no real explanation about how this all came about but I love that it is clinical, accepted, debated and still new.

There is so much to say about this wonderful beautiful story and yet not so much to say either. The best way to experience this book is to read it, book, audio or other. You won’t regret it and it will do wonders for your outlook on life.

You can purchase They Both Die at the End via the following

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (#1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published: 21 February 2012 (print)/ 9th April 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster Audio
Pages: 359/7 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

How I managed to relate to a teenager in America from the 1980s is a surprise to me but I did. This is a novel that didn’t evoke a lot of visible emotions, there wasn’t any squealing or gasping, no warm fuzzy feelings, but it was impactful all the same. It was a profound novel without being Profound. There are no sweeping metaphors, not Deep Thoughts, but at the same time it was deep in its own way. Sáenz is quite subdued with his grand thoughts and that is what I loved about this story.

At the beginning I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story as much as other people but somewhere around the middle I realized how much I adored this story, how much I loved Ari. Sáenz’s writing is brilliant in its slowness, and its enlightenment. It felt real. It felt like the 1980s where everything is slow, there are certain world events around you that have their own impact and effect. There is growth and understanding and I think it is a beautiful story.

I loved how Ari thought about things but it never came to a point where it was unbelievable, that you wouldn’t believe these are a fifteen year olds thoughts and feelings. I believed everything Ari thought and how he thought and seeing him work out the world and who he is was a great journey. I loved that it takes place over years, it isn’t one summer of discovery, it is years of growth and finding out who you are, it takes time. But at the same time I loved that it has a focus on the long summers. The long days of finding things to do and wasting time and being with friends.

The friendship between Dante and Ari is fantastic. There is a wonderful and genuine friendship between them that breaks down the need for manliness and inherent toxic masculinity, especially from the 80s but also from today. Sáenz’s depiction of male friendship is loving and affectionate without it being an issue for either boy. It is pure and I loved every minute of it. Dante is gentle and kind, and has no problem with that, even Ari is quiet and thoughtful, and loyal and has no worry being unlike other boys.

Other things that makes this story feel realistic is the constant call-backs to old jokes, no matter how long ago they started. This is a great reflection on real life that in jokes between friends and family can rise up at any point. It also explores serious things like absent family members and the after effects of war and those who must live on after it. I understood Ari’s frustrations and the way Saenz explores why Ari has these emotions; his anger, his guilt, his shame whether he knows that is what he’s feeling initially or not, it is real and heartbreaking. Dante is also wonderful and unapologetic. His confidence and shine is invigorating and it’s great seeing how it helps Ari, whether he knows it or not.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is amazing as narrator. His voice is perfect for these boys and he had wonderful pacing and tone which made it even more enjoyable. He uses a good voice for each of them and you don’t even hear that it is him after awhile because you get lost in their story. I thought it may be hard to hear anything but Lin but that wasn’t the case.

I need book two because I need to know what happens after what happens at the very end. I need a whole book of that final scene and I think there are so many brilliant moments in this book about friendship and honesty and boys, and what it means to be a person in the world and a teenager. There is a lot of love of all kinds and seeing Ari understood the world by observing others is such an introverted thing to do I loved it. He doesn’t say much but he thinks a lot and through those thoughts we try and understand who Ari is and how he is seeing the world around him. This is truly a story about Ari discovering who he is and wants to be, but more so trying to make sense of the world around him. Each character must try and find their place in the world and realise their actions affect others.

You can purchase Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe via the following

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