Book Mail

Recently I have been feeling deflated. After graduating university, failing to gain employment in Leicester meaning I’ve had to move back in with my parents, and also struggling to get a job here (especially after having an interview for Lush which was one of the few jobs I genuinely wanted), it’s safe to say I’m not operating at maximum Charlotte levels.  With all my friends (including my partner) now scattered across various parts of the country, and having to give up the independence and the self I spent three years building has knocked me down quite a lot. I have no life here and spend every single day switching between reading and working on my novel, which isn’t a bad thing, I just don’t have that down time to do other things because my closest friend is a two hour £30 train journey away.

On a typical, below average, boring day the post arrived and among the mainstream letters for the parents and the odd ones for my brother, was a package for me. And quite a big package as well. I knew that I hadn’t ordered anything so I wasn’t expecting anything with my name on. But I took it, opened it and this is what I was greeted with:

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A big wrapped item, a small wrapped item and a letter. From reading the letter I found out that one of my university friends, Jenny, (who I’m going to be a bridesmaid for in two years – yay weddings!) knew I hadn’t been feeling too good lately so she’d bought me a few things to cheer me up until I manage to get my life in order.

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Also, can we talk a moment to appreciate that she wrapped the presents in book themed paper? I love like-minded book lovers!

So on to the small package first!
My wonderful friend, sent me these:

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As a writer, one of the many things I seem to be collecting lately is journals. I tend to flit between periods of writing my current novel on my laptop and going back to good old fashioned pen and paper. Either way, I plan a lot on paper, so these handy little notepads will prove very useful when I need to document ideas for my character. Also, they’re Harry Potter themed. Who wouldn’t want Harry Potter themed things in their life??

Next up is the big package, and from years of receiving books for birthdays and Christmas, I can easily identify if it’s a book… and this, my fellow readers… was a book.

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This book is utterly beautiful, and I instantly fell in love, before I even knew what it was about (Well, Jenny did make reference to Alice And Wonderland in the letter she sent with these things).

So here’s a summary from the book itself:

“What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?
Oxford. 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to replace Alice Liddell as Mr Dodgson’s muse – and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.”

It sounds really intriguing and I can’t wait to read it!

You can find my fantastical friend Jenny on Twitter and you can find her blog here

As always, my links:
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Dirt Daughter – Michele Shaw

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Elena Black had concealed the secret to her childhood friend’s murder for eight years. With the possibility of a college scholarship looming, she plans to keep that secret and flee her dysfunctional home; one with a drug-addicted mother, a stepsister she just met, and a bitter abusive uncle. But when a detective reopens the cold case and a friend sets her up on a date with the new boy at school, the past and present collide, threatening Elena’s future plans… and her life.” 

*I was sent this book by the publisher but this in no way affects my review*

The prologue opens with Elena in a police station, in the preparatory stages of giving her statement about the disappearance of her friend, Lucy. The story then takes a step back to a month before where we get to see more of Elena’s life: she’s in her final year of High School and just wants to get into a good college so that she can move away and forget about Lucy. Her dad is dead and his replacement – Rick – is well… not very nice. Let’s put it that way. To top off the pressure and angst Elena already has building, her friend – Charlotte – is only ever around when she isn’t dating someone; which is rare. Charlotte decides to set Elena with a guy called Chayton who is part Sioux (yay diversity) who just happens to live on Lucy’s street (which brings back bad memories for Elena). Rick’s child – Angela – from a previous relationship shows up and is forced to room with Elena, making her already claustrophobic life all the more intense.

The story follows Elena through her every day life, making a few references to Lily causing the reader to question Elena’s involvement. I found this relatively boring as it seemed to drag on for too long building up the elements that make you care about the character. Then Elena comes home one day to find a stranger in her living room. It is Detective Carter and she’s reopened the case of Lucy’s disappearance. *cue dramatic music*

Obviously, this is a Young Adult mystery novel: there were many points where I thought I had things sussed, only to be left gawking at my kindle several pages later.

One issue I had with this book is a personal one. I just didn’t like the writing. That’s not to automatically label it “badly written” because other readers may not have a problem with the writing. I just found it hard to digest at times and felt like I was forcing my way through it.

Another thing I didn’t like was the ending. Just as I was starting to think that things were finally looking up, that was it. BAM. ENDING. I was left with so many unanswered questions which work in some books, but didn’t in Dirt Daughter. I found myself putting aside the book feeling annoyed.

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Paperweight – Meg Haston

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped in her life. In her body. And now in a treatment centre on the outskirts of the New Mexico desert. Life in the centre is regimented and intrusive – a nightmare come true for private and obstinate Stevie. She doesn’t want to get better – she wants to disappear. And if things go her way, in twenty-seven days she’ll do exactly that.”

I came across this book on Epic Reads’ Most Anticipated July Books. I’ve been looking for more Young Adult books that tackle mental illness. So when I saw this on the list, I decided to buy it.

The novel opens with seventeen year old Stevie being driven to a treatment centre for an unknown reason. As the plot progresses, it is revealed that Stevie has an eating disorder, has been admitted to the treatment centre by her dad, and she is counting down to some “anniversary.” Stevie arrives at the centre which is described as more of a summer camp in appearance. Stevie is assigned a cottage which she will share with other girls and meets her therapist, Anna, lovingly labelled “shrink” throughout the novel by Stevie.

This is a hard review for me to write because for the first time ever, I cannot decide whether I liked a book or not.

That’s not to say it’s a terrible book,  because it isn’t. There are many qualities that make this book great. I believe that it is very important to have books in Young Adult that tackle mental illness. Not only to help those going through the issues to find solace, but to give those who don’t, a little bit of education so that they are more understanding and able to help anyone they may know going through them. The topic of eating disorders was handled delicately and very well in this book.  It was also a very easy read, I managed to get through it in two sittings.

The Shrink – Anna – was a fantastic character who went above and beyond for Stevie. She never pushed Stevie too much but just enough to make her want to start addressing her issues. Anna made me think about all the therapists out there who work with young people, and how they are not recognized enough for the fantastic work they do every single day.

There was a lot more mystery than I expected and the information was dealt out slowly.For example, the event the caused Stevie to develop this disorder and what this big “anniversary” is that she’s constantly addressing in the narrative.  It keeps you very interested, which was probably why it didn’t take me too long to read.

However, we come to the reason why I’m at a loss as to whether I actually enjoyed this book or not. Stevie is a horrifically unlikable character. It’s understandable that she’s volatile because she doesn’t want to be in the treatment centre, being in the centre interferes with her plans for the anniversary and she doesn’t want help. Stevie is so nasty in the narrative when she talks about the other girls in the centre. Everyone who’s a patient at the centre has a wristband of one of three colours.

Red = Bad
Yellow = improving but still resistant
Green= Good, well on the path to recovery

Stevie is very judgmental of the girls based on the colour of their wristbands. A section of narrative is focused on a “yellow girl” whom Stevie labels a “failure” and criticises her physicality, a “green girl” who is larger than the other is labelled “pathetic” and fat shamed, and a “red girl” who has feeding tubes attached to her is labelled “weak” and judged for not hiding her eating disorder well enough. These aspects of Stevie’s character made it really hard for me to feel sympathetic for her when more of her back story is revealed, especially the cause of her eating disorder and the mysterious anniversary.

My dear readers, I am at a loss.
I am so mixed about this book.
Would I recommend it? Re-read it?
I honestly can’t give an answer.

Let me know if you’ve read it and whether you felt the same!

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A Darker Shade Of Magic V.E.Schwab

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Blurb: “Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad king George III. Red London – where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London…”

A Darker Shade of Magic is a book that I’ve seen constantly talked about in the book blogger/booktube world for a long time. It had a lot of hype and, while this tends to make me cautious about reading popular books, I decided to pick up a copy.

The story primarily follows Kell who is the “red traveller” and a kind of personal ambassador for Red London. His role is to carry correspondences between the royals of each London. However, on the side he smuggles parts of each world to the inhabitants of the others, if they are willing to pay. (Note: not everyone can travel to the different Londons)

On one of his escapades, Kell bumps into Delilah (Lila) Bard who robs him: the most notable item being a stone. Lila’s plans quickly unravel when she ends up saving Kell from a dangerous group intent on killing him. Kell informs Lila that the stone is in fact full of magic. But not just any magic. Magic from Black London.

Black London is basically a part of this world that has been ravaged by magic, used for evil, selfish reasons and now lies in ruins.

The duo part ways until a man called Holland jumps her. He knows about the stone, it’s powers and naturally, he wants it for himself. He threatens Lila and demands that she call Kell to the situation. Kell makes his dramatic entrance and repays Lila by saving her.

Kell’s plan is simple: get to Black London and return the stone.

Of course, Holland isn’t going to give up that easily. So it looks like Lila and Kell are going to have to put up with each other for a little while longer.

I can only get down on my knees and worship V.E.Shwab for the amount of planning that must have gone into this book. The world building was spectacular and each London was so distinctive that I felt as if I was really there on the streets. The characters were gloriously interesting. Schwab gives just enough information for you to picture them (for example, Kell) but just a smidge not enough which keeps you reading in the hopes that those gaps will be filled.

Also, kudos to the cover artist for this book because after I finished it, I realised that the circles on the cover actually represent each of the Londons.

This was a fantastic read and it has been a good while since a book has had me this hooked and left me asking myself questions long after I’ve finished it.
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The Future

I know that the purpose of this blog it to deliver reviews on books I have read recently (along with the occasional bookish tag) but today I will be taking a different direction, however, for a very good reason.

On Thursday 16th July 2015, I graduated from De Montfort University with a “second class (upper division)” in Creative Writing and English.

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If it isn’t at all obvious from the title of my degree, I really love reading and I really love writing.
When I started University I was struggling with low self confidence and anxiety. I moved to a city, into a flat in halls with four other girls that I didn’t know and I would literally hide in my room watching Glee boxsets while eating copious bowls of cheesy pasta that I had made at 2am to try and avoid them. In classes, I was the stereotypical quiet one – keeping their head down hoping that the teacher wouldn’t pick me.

After the “settling in” period I knew things needed to change, that needed to change and so I began forcing myself to ask people if I could sit next to them in classes. The result was gaining (what would become) two very close best friends, funnily enough, both called Jenny.

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I have always known that I want to be a writer. Going to University helped me learn which genre my strengths lay with and what path to take with my writing: Young Adult Fantasy. I remember in my first year having a chat with one of my teachers and when she asked what my end goal was and when I said being a writer she said “then you’ve already achieved your dream” when I asked her, rather confused, what she meant she said “if you write, then you are a writer. What you want to be is an author.” This teacher in particular helped me gain the confidence to say that I am a writer and to not be ashamed of it as I had felt so much in the past. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who thought the same way as me. They were willing to have intense debates, listen to and understand opinions even if they didn’t agree with them. Being surrounded by fellow writers made me feel confident because all of them had experienced negativity from family and peers over wanting to pursue a career in some aspect of writing. They listened to my ideas for novels, encouraged me, and even made suggestions.

I was able to unapologetically be myself.
When I started coming out to people as bisexual, and when I told what would become my friendship group, I was shocked to discover that not only did it not bother them, but being heterosexual was actually the minority.

In my second year I really pushed myself to experience more from university life. I joined the Creative Writing society, run by Corey who would become a lifelong best friend. I went on nights out and tried to push myself to see how long I could stay out. The result? I eventually met my boyfriend in this society.. on a night out.

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Whether I had highs or really bad lows, it didn’t matter as much anymore (well it did a little) because I had that support network I didn’t have before. For one of the first times in my life I now have people I can turn to if needed and they won’t project their own issues on me when I confide in them.

Third year was must tougher as I had a Creative Writing portfolio (dissertation) to work on. I am now turning the piece I submitted into a novel.

Also I now have a very expensive piece of paper showing the world that I am now a good writer. So I can stick a finger up to anyone who’s negative to me.

I am now constantly bombarded with questions about the future… my future. For now, I will continue working on my novel so that it is good enough to be published. I will also continue providing review for you lovely readers. The long term plan? Write novels and work for Bloomsbury.

My intention with this post was to not only to share a special day but to show anyone out there who has doubts about what they want to do, that it is possible. You just need to work hard!

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For my writing adventures follow me on Twitter

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For bookish photographs follow my instagram: @charlottereadsthings

“A Series Of Unfortunate Events” – The Importance Of Reading As A Child

Recently I watched the movie adaptation of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, based on the first three books in the collection of the same name, by Lemony Snicket.

Film Title: Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events.

While the film was painfully mediocre, it took me back to an important aspect of my childhood: reading.

When I was a child, if I saw a toy I wanted, my mother would make me wait a week to see if I really wanted it. Seven days later, we would go back to the shop and I would have no recollection of what toy I’d got upset over not being able to have, let alone how badly I had supposedly wanted it, However, if it was a book I wanted, she’d say yes. And so began my adventures of reading. The book fair days at Primary school when those metal containers full of books were wheeled across the playground were a bigger event than Christmas to me. Mother would give me a money limit, and I would be let loose.

It was at one of these events that I discovered A Series of Unfortunate Events. The blurb is an example of genius, playing on the whole “saying don’t do it will make a kid want to do it more”:

“Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket”
(Take from The Bad Beginning)

How could any child put the book back after reading that?!

Every single one of these books terrified me. I had horrible nightmares and used to hide the books in my wardrobe. Despite how scared I was, I continued reading book after book in this series out of a different kind of fear: if I wasn’t there for the characters, who else would be?
Now, would I have had this kind of mentality if I was a budding reader? Probably not.

To this day, A Series of Unfortunate Events was the first book series I ever read. And little me carried that as a badge of honor because I pushed through that fear to “protect” the characters until the very end.

Watching this film made me think about other books  I devoured in my childhood years.

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I’m pretty sure everyone from my generation read Roald Dahl at some point. But here is another example of my childish fears coming into play. I had the animated version of The BFG on video tape and used to watch it, truthfully, more than I sat re-reading the books. The giants terrified me. Specifically one sequence when Sophie and the BFG have to get past the nasty sleeping giants.

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Though these scenes were watched cowering behind my hands, I still had that mentality of “I can’t turn it off, I can’t abandon Sophie and the BFG!” As if me persevering with the film or books in general that made me uncomfortable had some affect on the story.

One fear I haven’t been able to shake is spiders.

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I remember being given this book. Thankfully I was too young to understand parts of the story (like Fern’s dad planning to kill Wilbur) but the spider just terrified me and I remember getting upset thinking that my mother had named me after a creepy crawlie with eight legs. While this didn’t teach me to face my fears, it did teach me the importance of friendship and embracing the differences between you and your friends.

Bedtime stories, if read by my mother were always the same:

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A wonderful collection of stories following the animals in the hundred acre woods. Again teaching me about the importance of friendship and courage. I still have my original hardbacked edition kept safe.

One day, my mother came home from work, called me over and placed a copy of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S.Lewis.

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This book/series opened me up to worlds I didn’t know existed. The possibility of going on adventures to uncharted, unknown places. Narnia: with talking animals, magic, kings and queens. It revolutionized my reading and made me want to read more about places that existed beyond the boring regular world.

This is where the children’s book industry fell down. They focused on producing the books, but not maintaining the readership. There was no “if you liked this, you might like this” to provide a pathway to other books that are similar.

So I floundered for a while until another day those metal containers were wheeled into the hall of my primary school. Eagerly scanning those shelves, I came across a book that would not just shape my childhood, but become a significant part of my life.

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I read the Harry Potter series in a strange order to begin with: 2 – 3 – 1- 4 to 7
This was just based on how I found them. While not the same as Narnia, the idea of a magic school and an array of creatures, and adventures to be had, had me hooked instantly. This was the first time I came across myself in a book: Hermione Granger – a girl who loved learning, constantly correcting people’s mistakes and always had her face stuck in a book. She was me! I am part of the Harry Potter generation. As Harry grew up, so did I. I feared when he faced Voldemort, smiled when he spent time at the burrow and laughed out loud when Lavender was pursuing Ron.

My most prominent childhood memory in terms of reading, that I can still remember vividly to this day, is sitting in class for the reading period. My teacher announces that our hour begins and every single person in the room, including the teacher, pulls out a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and begins reading.

Now if that’s not an example of a generation of children loving reading, then I don’t know what is.

While other books showed me that it was okay to be afraid and that you can get past the thing you’re afraid of, these books showed me that it’s okay to be afraid. What’s important, is acting in spite of that fear: the way Harry stands up to Voldemort in the graveyard after just witnessing Cedric’s death, the way he gives himself up to Voldemort at the battle of Hogwarts to prevent another life being lost. It taught me about the beauty of friendship and courage and love, not to be prejudice to others about the things they can’t change. These books will stay with me forever.

Another book that has stayed with me is this:

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This is the book that made me want to become a writer. My imagination was constantly filled with adventures I had in Neverland battling pirates, swimming with mermaids, dancing with the Indians.I adored this story. I adored the way it made me feel and I wanted to re-create that feeling for someone else. If I manage to do that in my lifetime as a writer, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

More recently I looked after my cousin’s soon to be three year old and she wanted me to read her a story. The picture book she picked out was this:

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I read it to her…. more than enough times and she always got scared by the bear. When I spoke to my cousin about it, she said that Faye started having nightmares about a bear coming to get her. My cousin spoke to the people at the nursery and it turned out they’d read her this book. My cousin’s solution? She bought Faye the book and read it to her, and told her that the bear only wanted to be friends with them. When I read it to Faye and she asked me why the bear looks sad at the end, I said the bear just wanted to be friends but had to go back to the cave otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tell the story again. After I explained this, she started to pretend to be scared and would giggle afterwards.
My cousin explained that when she came up with this “bear wanting to be friends” idea, Faye’s nightmares stopped.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: reading is important. 

A child who reads will grow up with some much imagination and creativity. A child who reads will know that being scared is okay sometimes because *insert character’s name* was scared when they did that brave thing. A child who reads will have courage and value friendship.

Reading is beautiful and if I ever have children, I will make sure that they read.

Let me know what books you read as a child that stand out to you!

Unpopular Opinion Tag

I stumbled across this tag on AddictedtoYA ‘s blog so I thought I’d do it as it seemed really interesting.
So let’s get to it!
A Popular Book Or Series That You Didn’t Like

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For this I just had to pick Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I started this series after I saw all the hype about the fact the series was going to be made into films and I enjoyed the first two books however, this one was such a let down. I just think the ending is such a cop-out and ruins the series for me. I lost all the enjoyment I had for this after the reading the pitiful ending. Also, that character death *sniff sniff* But pretty much this book just let the series down.
A Popular Book Or Series That Everyone Hates But You Love

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I’m sure that all us readers of Young Adult went through a paranormal phase at one point right? Right? Everyone I know hates Twilight and makes jokes about it and while I do too, I thoroughly enjoyed this series several years ago. I still like it now and find aspects of the writing relatable. It’s just a shame that such terrible movie adaptations exist.
A Popular Genre You Hardly Reach For

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Romance. When searching for a new book I automatically drift between the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Young Adult sections, even though Romance tends to take up most of the fiction section. I just never get the urge to read plain old romance. However, over the past two years I’ve started reading Giovanna Fletcher and Cecelia Ahern.

A Popular Or Beloved Character That You Didn’t Like 

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I absolutely adore The Mortal Instruments series. It not only changed my reading experience but gave me a direction to take with my writing. However, despite my love for these books the one character I never really cared for: Isabelle Lightwood. I just find her to be a bland and boring character and there was never any point when I felt emotionally attached to her. Sorry Sizzy shippers!
A Popular Author That You  Can’t Seem To Get Into

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As someone who studied English Literature at University I have been subjected to Jane Austen many many times. And every single time her books have gotten more and more grating on me. I just don’t see the appeal in her work at all. Also… Mr Darcy? That slimy pompous man can stay far away from me!
A Popular Book Trope That You’re Tired Of Seeing 

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I am so sick of unnecessary relationships in YA Fantasy/Dystopian. A prime example is the Four/Tris relationship in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. The whole plot line for the series would have worked just as well if their partnership was purely platonic. It happens in so many books of these genres where pointless pairings are brought in to add another layer to the story.
A Popular Series You Have No Interest In Reading

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I hear so many book bloggers and booktubers talking about the Percy Jackson series. I read the first book shortly after the film came out but I just never had any interest in continuing with the series. Sorry Camp Half Blood people!
Show/ Movie That You Liked Better Than The Book

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I started watching The Vampire Diaries TV show and when I discovered it was based on a YA book series of the same name, I decided to give them a read. But I didn’t enjoy them anywhere near as much as the TV show.

Who I Tag
I tag my wonderful writer friend Jenny