Pimped by Samantha Owens

Published: 21 March 2019 (print)/21 March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
John Blake/Bonnier Books UK
Pages: 272/6 hrs and 55 mins
Narrator: Emma Swan
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When your new best friend has pimped you out to older men and is making money from your abuse, who will come to your rescue?

By the age of thirteen, vulnerable Sheffield teenager Samantha Owens had fallen through the cracks in the care system. Bounced around numerous foster carers after her home life became too chaotic, Samantha thought she had found a friend in the streetwise Amanda Spencer. The older girl bought her clothes, styled her hair and found her places to stay. Samantha’s welfare was the last thing on Spencer’s mind, however, as in reality she was grooming the young girl for exploitation of the worst possible kind.

Over the course of the next few months, Samantha was plied with alcohol and drugs and pimped out to over fifty men for Spencer’s gain. Raped, abused, and with no chance of escape, Samantha was at the mercy of the calculating, ruthless and intimidating Spencer. It took a police investigation of two years to bring her and a small gang of cohorts to justice and, in 2014, Spencer was jailed for twelve years. With her abusers in jail, and Samantha bravely rebuilding her life, her shocking story is a stark warning to those who believe child sexual abuse follows any set pattern.

CW: sexual abuse, drugs

I can’t quite say what made me pick this up but it was an interesting story and one that is filled with sadness that these events could happen and no one ever notice or care. From a neglected childhood Sam is befriended by an older girl and from there her innocence and naivety is taken advantage of as the girl she looks up to leads her on the path of danger and destruction.

Samantha keeps referring to Amanda has her best friend but she clearly isn’t. But from Sam’s perspective she is the closest and only friend she has had, and once you know her childhood situation and her school life you can easily see how she held onto the belief that Amanda was her best friend.

Some parts describe the day to day before skipping parts of time and in this way we get to see a lot of the intimate moments of Sam’s life and get to see how long this went on and how it changed her life. It isn’t just her life on the streets with Amanda, her childhood has its own traumas and honestly, seeing her resilience through that as a child herself is something to be proud of. To see that be taken advantage of is hard and to see those around her fail her is even harder.

As Samantha got older and tells of her life on her own it was harder to track her timeline because she seems to change her mind a lot and her opinion flips often. This may have been over days or weeks but in the telling of the story it happens in a few sentences. This easily works as her being indecisive, but listening to it it happens fairly quickly. I didn’t mind this, but I was unclear of the time period and whether this was instant or over a few days or longer. Not that is has any real bearing on the story, but it was a moment of confusion.

Samantha doesn’t get away scot free and there are moments of unjustness but also of deserved consequences. Throughout her story though there are moments of despondency because you see Sam’s struggles and the circumstances she finds herself in and how she was behind from the start. It was sad to see how she often tried her hardest but the situation she was in and the lack of support she got often resulted in her falling back into bad habits. It is easy to see how it happened though as she explains that the pressure was too much and the need for money or comfort was what puts her over the edge no matter how much she hated it.

The is definitely a story about falling through the cracks of the system and seeing Samantha’s life from childhood to adulthood with neglect and abuse with only a few people to care about her was hard to hear about but one I think is important too. It is a powerful story to tell and having the courage to do so, and do so in a way where she doesn’t paint herself entirely as a victim, is incredibly brave.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Published: 28th May 2013 (print)/6th April 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Balzer + Bray/Audible
Pages: 470/14 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Beth Laufer
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

CW: self-harm, drug use, sex

I’m not sure what made me start reading this book but I am so glad I did. I loved the story, I loved Cameron and her life and truly I think I could have read about Cameron’s early romances and relationships forever. I was so involved with everything this book was about; I loved the complications and the secrets and the pure freedom of expression of desires. It was wonderful to see that even though everything is hidden, it is possible. Laufer is a fantastic narrator, she uses inflections and tones perfectly and you’re never taken out of the story. I was drawn into Cameron’s world and was with her the entire time.

There are fabulous friendships, the inevitable betrayal and I wanted nothing more than to jump into the book and seek justice for Cameron on her behalf. There is such an energy from those early parts that I fell right into. I didn’t quite feel the same energy in the final parts/chapters until right at the very end. Not quite sure where it kicks over but I think somewhere when she is sent to be “fixed”. The place is a strange set up and while it isn’t nearly as weird as others that no doubt existed, it has a dangerous approach to it all the same.

It’s strange because it could have been a lot worse, and I think Cameron eventually highlights what the main problem with it is, and of course other people do in small ways before, but it was such a weird environment and that comes across in the writing. The majority of the book comes before this though and by then you can clearly see the wrongness going on even if it is disguised as something else.

I loved Cameron’s defiance and her self-assurance. I loved that she knows the risks and yet wants to experience things anyway. Danforth doesn’t preach at us, but through the characters we see the injustice, through their words and their situations we see how messed up this thinking is, how kids are being essentially punished for loving who they love through no fault of their own.

This is a story about teenager’s being teenagers and doing all the things teenagers are going to do. The turn of the decade and coming of age all mix together into an honest story that is filled with passion and kids who are just being kids. There’s marijuana use, some language and a pretty honest exploration of sexuality and sex. It is uncertain, it’s new, it’s exciting and all of that comes across on the page with these characters who you love and hate and see for all their foolishness and faults.

I loved it all, but I really loved the earlier parts the most. I could feel it, right there with Cameron and her childhood, figuring stuff out, never naming it but working on instinct and having those around her to guide her. We go through years of her life and see the people who influence her and who love her. It is a brilliant exploration of best friends and women helping women.

It also has such a great 90s feel, the early years of a decade, the end of another when you can remember the previous decade and new trends are happening, there’s new music and old clothes, a mix of times. Even though this was published in 2012 there isn’t a clear shoehorning of 90s references, it happens naturally if at all. You understood it was from an earlier time and it was also timeless in a way which allowed the story to focus on the characters, on Cameron and her life, and the lives of those around her.

I would have loved the book to go on further, but despite the fact it was already quite long, I wanted to see more after those final moments. I wanted to be vengeful on Cameron’s behalf, I wanted her to be free and to see the previous life she had left behind, I wanted to save so many people from the adults around them. I do love the ending, it was beautifully done and Danforth brings it back to earlier moments so wonderfully well it was a great conclusion. My own wishes though would love to see what happens next and yet I don’t need a sequel because I really do think that would ruin the magic.

You can purchase The Miseducation of Cameron Post via the following

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Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Published: 30 September 2019 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio)

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 472/15 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Kristin Atherton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfil her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else.

This story is an investment. It is slow and vast and while it takes a little while to wrap your head around it, once you are immersed into this fascinating world Nix has created it is quite interesting, especially when you realise how complex and simple the story itself is. I will admit it took me a couple of goes to start this but I made myself return and I’m glad because it was a different kind of story which made it interesting.

Once the explanation is established about how summoning angels works with icons and icon makers, seeing how society works is fascinating. Whether to sacrifice your own days, months, years for the use of Angel Magic is a great decision and the way Nix has created varying levels and rules and restrictions is a testament to his world building capabilities. The grander explanation is revealed gradually and with a few key scenes that explain how the use of magic works with character dialogue and inner thoughts to help you grasp it fairly quickly. The multiple character points of view allow great insight into this world and the history, as well as the rules and limitations that exist. Nix also skilfully uses these scenes to advance the plot so every part of this lengthy tale is used with purpose.

It is easy to see how this may be seen as slow. Initially I thought so too, especially as an audio, but if you immerse yourself in the world, with these characters and their various lives, overlapping and coming together it wraps itself around you and it plays out reasonably well. The time is justified, it doesn’t drag out, but a lot happens which is used to build up to the climax and the war, not to mention getting all of the many players in place. The inspiration for this story was the Three Musketeers and you can see this in how Nix has reimagined the Cardinal and her guards. I loved all the female representations, even though they are still called sir it was always a surprise to have everyone important and high up be female as well as many other characters. It was another great change on the well-known story and a great improvement.

To be fair there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but only a few end up being ones that keep coming back and you have the time in the narrative to get to know everyone and their roles. I enjoyed the characters of Agnez, Henri, Simeon, and Dorotea a lot. Each of their different lives are another fascinating look at the world, and seeing the events that bring them together is clever and full of creativity on Nix’s part. They are full of personal history and have great character depth and having listened to this as an audio I got a range of wonderful voices as well.

Atherton does a great job as narrator. Her reading is well paced, can be slow at times but it is also an addition to the grandeur of the story. Dealing with angels and magic, even if it is common occurrence, doesn’t stop the story from feeling epic. I really liked this different type of fantasy, it is a love story across time and magic, of musketeers and angels that was exciting as it was profound. I’m glad I persevered because I appreciate the world Nix has built, the drive behind Lilliath, and the diversity in his characters. Plus it was a really satisfying ending which is a great reward.

You can purchase Angel Mage via the following

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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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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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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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