Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Thank you to netgalley and Abrams Kids for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book is set in the 20s during the time of prohibition, but that’s not the only thing banned; people who have powers to manipulate people using art are also banned.

The biggest part of this book that I liked was the sisterhood. There was no girl on girl fighting for the sake of it, the 2 MCs were really close friends and loved each other and you could feel that throughout the whole book. They had really distinct personalities and I liked them as characters, however I felt like the book maybe should’ve been told from just one perspective because they all just rolled into one and it kind of felt like more of an omniscient narrator than separate character’s points of view in a way.

I also really loved the magic system, everything was related to art, some people could do magic with music, some with painting, some with poetry which I just found really cool. Though at times they would start to use their powers at moments where I just felt like it didn’t make sense to the situation, like surely someone would’ve stopped them before it actually took hold of them. Would it not be obvious to you that someone was Iron Cast if they started just randomly singing?

The world building could have done with some work. I found myself confused a fair amount of the time about just what was really going on. It felt a bit wooly at times and I think that was partly to do with the pacing which went from being really slow to really fast that I couldn’t really concentrate wholly on what was actually going on.

There was some really good points about racism and sexism that were brought up that are often swept under the carpet in historical fiction. Just because things were different doesn’t mean people were happy to just be treated like second rate citizens because of their gender or skin colour and this book was a reminder of that. Not only was one of the MCs facing difficulties in her life due to her magic but she was also black and whilst it is set in Boston where racism wasn’t nearly as bad as places in the south there was still a clear racial divide. It also raised some thoughts on the anti-Russian sentiments in the states, which not as strong as the narrative about racism against black people it was still there and mentioned.

I’d definitely be interested in what this author will come out with next as I can tell that she’s going to improve the more she writes.

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Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I was again very struck by how well this book has been adapted whilst reading this. As I’d already watched season 2 of the show I knew what to expect and honestly I was really surprised how well it had translated. Especially since this book is so long.

Which was my main annoyance with this book: it was long. Yes I knew what I was getting into but it just felt unnecessary at times. I would even say there was certain bits that was glanced over that the show went into more depth with, that were tough scenes, and then parts that were unimportant went into far too much detail.

And whilst I’m on the subject of the show vs. the book, I feel like the book actually pales in comparison to the show with its secondary characters. The characters like Angus, Rupert and Louise were barely even there in the books, mostly just mentioned in passing, and I would’ve liked to read more about them because I like them in the show.

I know a lot of people don’t like Briana, and I think that begins in the later books but so far I enjoyed her parts in this book. I liked the bits in the future where Claire is trying to explain and Roger investigating trying to corroborate with Claire’s story. It mixed things up a bit. And it’s made me interested to see what’s going to happen in the 3rd book as I know that it’s set in the 1760s.

Getting to see a different setting was also cool, I liked seeing the French court and the inner political workings. The thing I also like and I noted it to myself when I watched the show and I was glad it was shown this way in the book is that Bonnie Prince Charlie is shown to be what he actually was, a giant idiot. Somehow over the years he’s been romanticised into this pillar of Scottish Independence and patriotism but he was a blithering fool, and as this book has romanticised the Scottish way of life quite a bit I was worried that that would happen with the Young Pretender, but it didn’t. As I’m from the Isle of Skye I know a fair amount about Prince Charlie due to him hiding out here and escaping thanks to Flora McDonald, and there is specific history of my village to do with it all, so I was definitely going to be very critical of it.

I think it’ll be a wee while before I pick up Voyager because 1. I’m still annoyed about what DG said about people who work in the service industry, 2. THESE BOOKS ARE TOO DAMN LONG I HAVE OTHER STUFF TO DO

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

So to start off here is a little backstory on why I picked this book up. I hadn’t heard of it prior to this happening. I was in London in August seeing The Cursed Child with my best friend Jess and her mum. We were sitting in a nice vegan restaurant just talking about my blog because it was still relatively new at that time, and then Jess’ mum mentions a book that someone she met at her work mentioned to her. She couldn’t remember what it was called or what happened in it just that it contained the word “light”. I hopped on Goodreads and literally searched the word light and this was the first book which came up and was the book she was thinking about. So then it was stuck in my head, and it sounded like a book I might want to read so I picked it up from the library.

Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her dad and she has to move at the beginning of the war due to circumstances from her dad’s job at the Natural History Museum. Werner is an orphan who lives in a mining town in Germany and develops a talent for engineering. Some Nazis discover his talent and take him to a very severe Hitler Youth Academy. Their stories run concurrently and flick back and forth between current book time, when they are both on an Island off the coast of Brittany which is about to be bombed, and past book time.

I thought this was a really interesting take on WW2, a kid who was forced into being a Nazi just to survive being an orphan and a blind French girl just trying to live wasn’t something I had thought about. I liked learning about Werner as an engineer, I loved reading from Marie-Laure’s perspective because Doerr wrote perfectly what it was like for her being able to hear what was going on but not being able to see. It was a scary POV to read from in the setting.

I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize and can see why others would absolutely adore this book but for me, it didn’t sit right enough for me to completely love it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it but something didn’t gel with me, everyone who I’ve seen speak about this really loved it and a customer saw I was reading it in work and waxed lyrical about it and I was just like “yeah it’s ok”.

Though I knew Marie-Laure and Werner were eventually going to meet up because of course they were, it felt like it was taking a very long time for this to happen. There was a lot of build up for them meeting up and when they did it felt a bit of a let down to be honest. The whole book just felt a bit slow for my liking, I had issues with pacing. The past parts of it were so slow but then the current parts were fast and it was jarring at times.

Objectively I can see why people love this book, but for me I liked it and that’s it.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Why bother with writing this review when my feelings can be summed up in: READ IT.

Thank you to netgalley and Viking for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I’m a white woman so whilst I endeavour to explain things as best as I can let me know if I’ve said something offensive and I’ll correct it ASAP.

Homegoing follows the generations of 2 sisters (who didn’t know each other existed), Effia who is sold into slavery and Esi who is a slave trader’s wife. It alternates POVs from each side of the family though each generation until the modern day.

This book just really affected me. I just sat for like half an hour afterwards just not sure what to do with myself. I still just sit and think about it and I read it in December. It goes through every kind of racial inequality and experience that you can imagine from people who are descended from African slaves. Of course, it’s not every experience but it just felt like it. We go through riding the boat to America, to taking part in the slave trade just to live, to being persecuted for your father taking part in the slave trade, to growing up on cotton farms, to living free but not really free at all, to mine working, to the 1960s race riots, and so on and so forth. I really loved that there wasn’t just being put down for your race but also there was sexuality discussions in tense times for being gay.

I could not believe that this was a debut, the writing was so incredible. I could really feel everything and imagine all the settings described. I was so close to tears for a lot of it because the writing was so on point. I will definitely be reading anything Yaa Gyasi releases next.

If I have one complaint it was the PO switching, when I started the book I found it a bit disjointed because I wasn’t used to it. However after a few of these changes I got used to it and it began to feel a lot more natural. Gyasi was really good at introducing you to the next character, whether it be when they’re a baby or really getting to know them, you at least have a vague idea of who you’re going to hear from next.

I honestly don’t think I can do this book justice so please promise me you’ll read it. It’s one of those moments in life where I just felt changed as a person simply for reading it.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I normally put a summary in my own words in my reviews but I feel like I can’t do that for this book. I honestly would recommend going in blind because nothing could prepare you for what this book is really about.

This book was quite slow paced, but that’s because it’s so beautifully detailed and you can really visualise the magic in this story. It’s slow enough that I can understand people putting this book down , but I just absolutely adored what I was reading and didn’t mind the pace of it. The world building was so fantastic that I really felt like I could completely imagine exactly what the circus was like and how I would feel if I ever went to it.

I loved that there was so many different POVs at different times, normally I find this just messes with the whole story but with this it really helped add to the mystery and intrigue. It helped the reader learn more about all the characters without compromising the plot.

Since the timing was all mixed up and it wasn’t told chronologically the big reveals were so surprising. It also made you feel unaware of what was really happening until it happened, but then when you think about it you should’ve seen it coming.

This book is honestly just so magical, midway through my read one of my locals at work asked me about it as she’d already read it and I just felt it was ok but she loved it, then I read more and I fell so deeply in love with it.

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Goldsmith Jones by Sam Taylor-Pye Blog Tour | Review and Excerpt

I will warn you that this novel is not for you if you react badly to violence towards children, sexual assault towards children, child prostitution etc etc.

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Goldsmith Jones is left stranded in crime-ridden, gangland territory. He finds himself living at The Shades, a home to local street kids. While selling sexual favours down the Dead Man’s Alley to survive, Jones is charmed by a seaman he knows as Sweet Virginia. Moving further away from the relative security that The Shades and his best friend, Raccoon, offered him, Jones is drawn ever closer to the manipulative Sweet Virginia. When Raccoon falls gravely ill and is taken to convalesce on the rural Rancheria, Jones is left under the controlling powers of the unscrupulous navvy. Swindled and wrongly accused, he is unexpectedly rescued by the leader of the villainous Suarez Brothers, the charismatic Saul. Faced with a choice between becoming Saul’s ‘little brother’ and saving Sweet Virginia’s life, Goldsmith Jones must embark on a dangerous journey which will change his young life forever.

Excerpt

Chapter 9: I Start Working

Jones is still reeling after finding the boy he’s been sleeping making out with another. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s out of money for rent. Alley Mac who manages the boys working on the street, lets him know its time to start earning his keep.
Its seems my paid up board had run out, and I was to start working down the Dead Man’s Alley for real.
She set me up on Washington Street a block away from the Shades. I was made to stand on top of a crate yelling, “Shoe shine, get your shoe shines,” five cents for the regular, two bits for the presidential service—which meant frigging or sucking on a Dead Eye’s thing.
Alley Mac had a fella set up for me already, and said she was sticking around to make sure I done the job well.
I took a long look at that Joe. He was clean, but old, around thirty years living. His ears were overly large. Had red marks on his face that she said was due to him not caring much for fruit or vegetation, and not the clap like everyone was saying.
She went to him and they talked in private.
He swung a look at me and smiled.
He seemed friendly.
Alley Mac comes back to me saying, “Why didn’t you smile back? You got to smile back when they smile at you. Polish your teeth with your sleeve.”
So I did.
She ordered me to get down off the crate and tuck my shoeshine things away before they get stole. Then with me carrying my crate, Alley Mac, me, and Dead Eye headed down Dead Man’s Alley.
Men and boys were hidden in shadow. Some were standing toe to toe smoking pipes and talking. I saw a couple of Dead Eyes standing unmoving and erect like stone statues, each with a boy close up to them. One punk was moving his hand, frigging back and forth, the other had his face pressed against Dead Eye’s open waistbands.  Another boy had done doing his and was spitting the job out into the dirt.
The strong smell of liquor was offending my nose. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was running, I was panting hard like a hunted down critter. I wanted to turn back and fly, but my feet were stuck fast to the ground like Jesus nailed to the board.
I thought, for a moment, I caught sight of Juan. I swallowed courage and looked closer still, to see if Whitey blue-eyes were with him. But they weren’t there. And the thought of them, maybe being together, someplace else, lying butt naked in the hay, made my eyes fill with tears.
“Don’t start crying,” said Alley Mac. “Dead Eyes don’t like it, and the kind that does, you don’t want to know.”
I wiped my tears away, apologized and told her I didn’t feel well, and how I ought to go back and try again tomorrow.
But she had her mule ears on. “Now look at your man and give him a smile,” she said.
I looked at the fella. And his contagious looking skin. Strange ears that didn’t seem to belong to his head. Had his hands in his pockets and was staring at me with crazy owl eyes.
I bit my lip to stop my tears from spewing down my cheeks. I swallowed hard and tried on a smile.
He smiled back and gave me a little wave.
“So, you know what to do?” she said.
I nodded.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll be waiting around the corner for when you’re done. And don’t worry, he’s nice. Just be nice back. Make him feel, you know, welcome. Keep smiling at him. Look interested. And, before he tells you what he wants, get in first with your own order. Ask him if you can tug on his rooster. Tell him it turns your fancy. That way you’ll be running the show, not him.”
“What about asking for money,” I said.
“No, I already took care of that, all’s you got to do is your job.”
“All right,” I says, “but, do I got to call it ‘rooster,’ can I call it something else?”
“Call it what you will,” she said, “just make sure he understands what you’re getting at. Some of them have a way of taking their own meaning and you don’t want that. They get all kinds of strange ideas. So be clear, all right.”

Excerpt From: Sam Taylor-Pye. “Goldsmith Jones”

Review

This was a strange book. I didn’t really know what was going on a lot of the time. I will warn you that this novel is not for you if you react badly to violence towards children, sexual assault towards children, child prostitution etc etc.

I was confused for a lot of this novel, in terms of the characters I wasn’t sure how they were really feeling about situations. I didn’t know whether Goldsmith was in love with Sweet Virginia because he was queer or because he was forced into a life of gay prostitution and was confused about everything. I do think that Goldsmith is gay but it was just really confusing to read. Added to that there is a character who I think is trans but it wasn’t really clarified what the deal was with the character.

This novel was horrible in that it was completely honest, it was so incredibly brutal. There was a lot of time I just felt so uncomfortable reading it that I had to put it down. But it’s never romanticised, it’s written in a way that tells you that of course this wasn’t good stuff that was happening, it never once made it seem like it was all a-okay. It was an interesting insight into what sexuality was like in the late 1800s, the hypocrisy of happily getting sexual favours from young boys down a back alley but calling people derogatory names for doing the same thing and getting absolutely raging when anyone dare suggest they were anything but straight.

All of the characters are terrible people, but that was simply systemic of the way they have to live their lives.

I found the book quite slow going for most of it, but the writing is really well done, I could imagine all the places detailed. It was a hard book but an interesting one.

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Sam Taylor-Pye grew up on the border between Washington state and British Columbia, Canada and currently lives in Kent in the UK. She received her BA from the Open University, and has an MA in Creative Writing. This is her first published novel.

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Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin

Edit 22/03/2017: So I really loved this book at the time but it has been pointed out today that the romance in it could be taken as a romance between a Jewish girl and a Nazi, whilst I personally didn’t feel like Luka was a Nazi as he seemed to mostly get by in life not taking an interest in anything and is completely unaware of all of the politics, this doesn’t mean he was completely innocent. Here is a thread on twitter: https://twitter.com/Bibliogato/status/844582171637624832. I’m sorry if you went onto read this series/book after reading my review and were hurt by it. I’m a white, non religious person so I wasn’t aware when reading this of possible triggers, which I’m sorry about, I fucked up in not relaying this in my original review.

Thank you to netgalley and Hachette Children’s Group for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gosh this book. I don’t honestly know where to start with my review for this. I was completely blown away. I liked Wolf by Wolf but it just felt like there was something missing stopping me from loving it completely. Then this book happened.

There were so many twists and turns in this book, I had no idea what was going to happen next. Between the discoveries about the Nazi Government now knowing that they’ve been using skin shifters and never knowing who to trust I felt like I couldn’t breathe when I was reading this. I read it so quickly, I could not put it down.

I love Luka so much, I already had a soft spot for him after the first book but then this book showed a whole new side of him, a soft, trusting side. When he learns that the Nazis experimented on kids he goes from being indifferent about the government to being disgusted with them and himself for not knowing this was going on. He shows so much development.

The characterisation was so on point. When characters did stupid things I found myself practically screaming at the page, but it wasn’t stupid stupid, it was believable stupid. They were human and had flaws but they worked in every situation.

I won’t spoil anything I try not to do spoiler reviews unless I really need to talk about something but my God did the end of this book rip up my heart, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. I still get sad thinking about it.

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I went into this trying not to expect too much because I love the TV show and I’m from the Isle of Skye so I was completely wary of it. I know so many people love the book but the TV show has the benefit of research with Gabaldon didn’t have when she first wrote the book so I was preparing myself for this to not be stellar, but I was wrong thankfully.

I’m sure you know what Outlander is about but if you somehow don’t Claire and Frank Randall are on holiday in Inverness trying to reconnect after the second world war. After touching a stone circle Claire is transported back to 1743 and stumbles upon some redcoats. She’s rescued by some Highlanders and taken to their castle so their clan chief can figure out what to do with her.

I never trust books or tv shows or movies set in Scotland because there’s just so many bad ones, so much inaccuracy and romanticisation of the country. But this was fairly accurate, of course there’s a bit of romanticisation but there’s also no glossing over how Scotland was in the 1700s, there’s clan warfare, anger at the English etc etc. On top of that there is some really funny parts of it that were really quite on point when it comes to the Highlands and how things are like here still to this day. We still gossip, we still know everything that’s going on in our community which most people wouldn’t know elsewhere. Things like that I’m amazed she had barely any resources for because that’s not something you know unless you live here. Even the Gaelic wasn’t poor.

I loved reading about Jamie, he’s such a sweetheart. Yeah he makes some mistakes along the way but it was out of ignorance as he is still young and I think people forget that when they criticise him. He’s had not much real experience with women and he gets thrust into a marriage so of course he’s going to listen to the things his married friends say regardless of whether they’re right or not. It’s also a sign of the times, history is gruesome so it’s important for accuracy. But if you’re upset by domestic violence, do not read this book. It only happens once but that’s still not good.

I loved reading Claire go from being a bit stuck up and annoying to caring for all the people she meets in Scotland and how she doesn’t want the Jacobite rising to happen, knowing how much of a bloodbath Culloden was.

As I watched the TV series first I’m quite amazed at how much the show kept with the book.

I was reading this on a train to Inverness and I was so embarrassed about it hahaha. Some American guy started talking to me about it and I was like I’M NOT A TOURIST I’M FROM SKYE. I’ve had customers come into my work saying they’ve come to Scotland after reading Outlander and oh man does it make my eyes roll.

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Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Read this book.

I love Ruta Sepetys’ writing and this book didn’t disappoint. I was hit really hard by it. She knows how to write really horrible thing that actually happened in real life from a teenagers perspective without making them seem like an oblivious idiot.

Similar to Salt to the Sea this focuses on a little talked about part of the second world war: eastern europeans being deported from their homes to work in labour camps in Russia. Lina and her family are taken from Lithuania and placed in a camp in Siberia after a horrible long journey in a train car.

You could really feel the horrors of everything happening when reading this book, feel for the characters whose lives were completely unraveled. I just felt so sad reading this, knowing that this happened to real life people.

I connected to the characters far better than Salt to the Sea. Maybe because it was in one perspective I don’t know. Everyone felt so human, it didn’t feel like I was reading a novel it felt real, the characters spoke how I imagined they would, they reacted in both bad and good ways, there was nothing fake.

Sepetys’ research ethic is unparalleled, I love how much work she puts into it and making sure she thanks everyone who spoke to her.

My one gripe with this book was that I wish there was more about their lives after everything had happened. I wanted to see what their lives were like continuing after going through everything.

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Fifteen Words Blog Tour | Monika Jephcott Thomas Guest Post & Review | The Difficulties of Researching for History Novels

If you’ve read my reviews of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin you will know that I have a keen interest in Nazi Germany and the time surrounding the second world war, so when I was contacted to see if I would be interested in taking part in this blog tour I replied very quickly. Thank you to Rachel Gilbert at authoright and Clink Street Publishing for arranging this and for sending me a copy of the book. And thanks to Monika for writing this post for me. 

Summary:

Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?
Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.


One of the main difficulties of researching for historical fiction is just that – the research! Or more specifically getting bogged down in the research. Research is important of course and reality is so often stranger than fiction, which is why history provides such good fodder for novelists, but at the end of the day we are writing historical fiction. As a reader, if you want to read a history book, I would suggest you don’t pick up a novel. As a writer, I would suggest, that as soon as something you research sparks your imagination, get writing and stop researching. I often have blank spaces in the pages I write; spaces where a fact or detail needs to be added, but it is not so vital to keep me from actually writing the drama my characters are going through. Later on, after the writing is done, I can go back and fill in the blanks. The internet, being just a click away, is a very tempting and useful tool, but it can lead you down labyrinths that are a massive distraction sometimes. It’s better not to go there until after or before your actual writing time.

There is another difficulty with researching history and that is the history books themselves. As we all know, history can be a very subjective thing, open to interpretation and manipulation by historians, depending on their political and cultural bias. Every few decades, top secret documents are released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, the 30 year rule, etc and we find ourselves a little closer to the truth; a little more aware of how history is not as black and white as we might have thought.

That’s why I think some of the greatest tools for research are photographs. During the research for my novel Fifteen Words, set in Germany during the last days of the Second World War and the few years after it, I would pore for hours over photos found in archives, on the internet and in my families own collections. Luckily, the age of photography was still reasonably young in the early-mid twentieth century, so the photos I saw could not have been doctored; and as such they are often the most honest and objective interpretation of the past we can find. Photos are so full of stuff to inspire your imagination; full of details that can populate your descriptions. Use them!

Private letters are similarly useful, as they can help you imagine the voices of your characters, the vocabulary they might use, the turns of phrase they might employ. Private letters often can tell us what kind of issues occupied the minds of people during the eras you are writing about. For example, nearly all of the letters in my novel Fifteen Words are near transcriptions of genuine ones I found in archives. I would match a letter to the appropriate character, or sometimes a letter I stumbled across inspired a whole new turn of events in the book.

So while the details are important, getting inside the characters is so much more important. And the best research you can do for this is to look inside yourself because, although there may be many decades or even centuries which separate you and your characters, human beings are, and always have been, very similar, beneath all the wonderful and incredible cultural and physical differences we possess. That is why if, as a writer, you can set down emotions that you have felt in a clear and honest way, readers from any part of the globe and from any epoch in the future should be able to relate to and be moved by them.

Review

This was a really interesting book. It had similar experiences in into Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, being put in POW camps by Russians for long periods of time. However this is a different novel, it follows Erika as well who remains in Germany and it was good to read about someone remaining in Germany and seeing what happened when the Americans took control of it.

Throughout the book there is the recurring theme of “Fifteen words” and how important a simple 15 words are which I thought was an important subject as people forget how important words are, how much can change with just a few simple words. It was a good reminder to watch what you say.

Overall I found this a fairly slow read, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it is a heavy read and something that really needs to be paid attention to. You can’t just gloss over pages in this book like I occasionally do as it’s a difficult subject. Something that hit me with this book is that there’s a couple of mentions of one of their friends having same sex relations down back alleys and the like which I thought was a really good addition to the story because obviously being gay isn’t a new thing and I think it’s often glossed over in history.

We get to see from the POVs of Max and Erika and on the whole I didn’t really like Erika. She makes some decisions that I wasn’t a fan of and I found it hard to like her after that, especially when I’m reading from Max’s POV every other chapter. I got really attached to Max actually, like I really looked forward to his chapters.

I wish there was maybe 1 or 2 more chapters more for this book but that’s just me. I felt like it just ended and I just wanted that little bit extra after the ending. All in all this was an eye opening read.

Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas published by Clink Street Publishing, out now

 

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