This week has been another good one for reading. Here’s what I’ve read:
Charlotte Says by Alex Bell
Charlotte Says is a horror. I don’t usually read horror but I saw this mentioned a lot as a must-read from other bloggers, and it has my name in the title, so I decided to give it a go.
Alex Bell creates good tension at the start: we know its going to be creepy from the descriptions and atmosphere. Details are revealed slowly; Mim is in mourning and has left her home, but we don’t know what happened or who she is mourning.
The school she is working at is unwelcoming. The headteacher dislikes her and the punishments inflicted on the children are terrible (there were times I wanted to put the book down because of this aspect). Estella, one of the pupils, was the most interesting character for me, because of the way her past affects how people see her in her present.
The narrative is split between the current time and the past, which adds tension as the author slowly reveals details which explain what’s happening in the present. Initially, this was so slow that I felt I was missing something by not having read the sequel first, and the events at the end happened a little too quickly for me: I felt the novel could have been more evenly paced.
Charlotte Says is certainly scary in places and evokes that sense of horror with small, creepy details and the atmospheric setting. There are also some truly horrifying scenes. Alex Bell offers plausible alternatives to what appears to be happening so you are left guessing for most of the book.
Although it’s not my usual genre and I didn’t love it, I did enjoy it enough that I plan to read the sequel to see what happens next.
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
This is a story about a coffee shop in Kabul and the people who find themselves there. It was a slow starter for me and I didn’t find myself wanting to pick it up to keep reading, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it.
The novel has themes of women’s rights in Afghanistan, faith, honour, the concept of shame and love. Deborah also writes about the rise of the Taliban and the fear invoked by this; the violence and bombings and the idea of there being “terrorism schools” where children are radicalised.
Yazmina, one of the women, is pregnant by her dead husband, and through this we are shown how few rights women and children have in Kabul, how they are seen to be “only as good as the man who takes care of them” and the danger that being a pregnant woman with no living husband faces. In Halajan and her son Ahmet, Deborah explores love and marriage, tradition vs modernity, and faith as well as family dynamics when a widowed mother is cared for by her son. Everyone in the story has different experiences of life in Kabul, but them come together in a little coffee shop to form unlikely friendships which makes for a lovely story.
We learn a lot about the customs and history of Kabul without the novel ever feeling like a heavy read. I wasn’t gripped by this book, but I found it interesting and enjoyable. I’m pleased that Naima chose it as part of our unofficial August unhaulathon.
Invictus by Ryan Graudin
This one was my favourite read of the week: Jodi Taylor meets Firefly in a time-travel adventure.
It starts with the story of Faraway McCarthy’s birth, a child born out of time. It is a fascinating concept and one that really drew me into the story (I’d intended just to read the first chapter before bed and found myself a quarter of the way through before my eyes gave up).
We know that his being born outside of time will be important, but we don’t realise the impact of this until the story unfolds. Faraway (Far) believes that someone is trying to sabotage his future career. He finds himself the captain of his own time machine (Invictus). Then one day a stranger shows up and everything starts to change. I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because I really feel that this is one of those stories that is better the less you know about it.
It is a story of mystery, adventure, saving the world and the sense that “the universe always has a way of righting itself”. It questions the ethics of time travel and whether it is ever okay to interfere with something that has already happened (an idea that fascinates me and which I love most about time travel stories). Ryan also explores whether you are still you if you don’t have your memories and just how much can love survive?
The characters are all brilliant in their own way. I absolutely adored Imogen with her ever-changing bright hair and slightly off balance humour: “the world’s ending…might as well have dessert”.
Highly recommended for anyone who loves time travel stories, and definitely for fans of Jodi Taylor or Firefly.
Fire Lines by Cara Thurlbourn
I also read this, but you’re not getting the full review yet because I’m on the blog tour next Friday, so check back then to see what I thought of it!
That’s me done for another week. What have you been reading? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @charlotteswhere. I’m off to bury my head in Tarnished City – see you on the other side!