Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Review of the Summer series

The Summer series is a trilogy by Jenny Han. The three books are The Summer I Turned Pretty, It's Not Summer Without You and We'll Always Have Summer. Isabel 'Belly' Conklin has spent every summer at her mother's best friends beach house in Cousins Beach. It's where everything fun happens, and where she hangs out with Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. She has been in love with Conrad since she was young and Jeremiah is her best friend. But now that both boys are displaying an attraction to her, will things ever be the same between them?

You know, I wanted to love this book, considering how much I adored the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series. I mean, it was obvious that this series does revolve around a love triangle, so maybe that was a warning sign? Not one of my favourites.

Under a cut because I couldn't discuss this one without spoiling events in the books.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Review of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone is a book by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Fraternal twins Adina and Tovah Siegel don't get on. Both are ambitious. Adina lives for her viola, and Tovah wants to become a surgeon. However, with a test for Huntington's, the disease that is slowly killing their mother, coming up soon, will things get better or worse for the sisters and their relationship?

I loved it. While Holocaust narratives are important, I think it's also necessary to have books about how Jewish characters in the modern world. And it was interesting to see twins who weren't automatic best friends! And there were flawed female protagonists, something else I feel we don't see often enough.

Trigger warning for self harm and suicidal ideation. This is also most certainly in the upper end of YA - it features sex (described) and discussions of masturbation, drinking and swearing. Many of these are taboo topics in YA, but they are things teenagers experience and I believe should be covered in YA books. I didn't even know masturbation was something women could do until I was in my 20's, so this would have been a revelation. With the style of writing and the subjects covered, I could easily see it as a book aimed at adults, which just happens to be about teenagers. While I don't think books should have age limits - some of the things I read at twelve have really shaped me as a person and helped me understand the world - I'd say just make sure someone can handle heavy topics.

Under a cut, because I want to talk about this book in regard to which twin gets the Huntington's diagnosis.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Review of I am Thunder

I am Thunder is a book by Muhammed Khan. Muzna Saleem is a British-Pakistani Muslim who has recently moved schools. There, she meets Arif Malik, who displays an interest in her. Muzna is flattered by his attention, but he and his brother are hiding a dark secret. Can Muzna find her courage and her voice before it is too late?

Please read reviews from Muslims about this book, too. I can only speak for myself and within the confines of my own experience. However, this is exactly what I like from a YA book.

Even though I hate to do this, I must compare this book to Love, Hate and Other Filters, another book focusing strongly on Islamophobia and terrorism that came out this year. While Love, Hate and Other Filters stays away from (un)Islamic extremism, this book attacks it with a sledgehammer. And I think we need both approaches. We need to see how Muslims are affected when the attacker isn't Muslim, and we need to see how terrorism affects their communities, too.

So, when I said that this is what I like in a YA book, I mean that because it shows what you should do, rather than a what not to do. People (and that includes everyone, because terrorism isn't only a Muslim concern) need to know what they should do if they have information relating to any sort of attack. Going to the police is one way, and the book also mentions an anonymous hotline, which I mention because I know going to the police isn't safe for everyone. Spoiler: We see Muzna going to the police with her information. /spoiler

I also liked Muzna's character. She's awkward and quiet and scared, with most of the book showing her that she does have a voice which can be used to change things. She absolutely shows that teenagers can change the world. She wants to write, she wants to write her story and stories about people like her. And she also explores her faith during this book. She had been raised less religiously than many, but hanging out with Arif and Jamal is leading to more pressure on her to conform to their idea of her faith. Spoiler: she finds a path of Islam in the end that she likes and that works for her. /spoiler

Another thing I loved was Muzna's struggle with facial hair. This is the first YA book that I've seen actually mention this! This is what I needed - you're not the only one, it is normal but it can be a sign of things so it's best to get it checked at the GPs and maybe they can help. I've written about my struggles with chin hair here, and despite going through an expensive and painful procedure, it seems to be coming back. I actually kind of want to just hold be head up and be all "oh, so what?"

One thing, though - you can tell this book was written by a teacher. One of the coolest adults in the book is a teacher, and there's a lot of attention to detail about the school. One of these was the mention of SIMs, which I literally had to send to my best friend going "hey, remember this?" because it was what our school used.

I would recommend this to people who want to know more about the experiences of Muslims in Britain.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Bookish This or That Tag by Paper Fury

So I am shamelessly stealing borrowing with permission this book tag by Cait from Paper Fury. Ten bookish questions with two choices. Self-explanatory, so lets dive right in!

1. Series or Standalone?

Uhhh this one was hard because I do read both. But like... what if I lose interest in a series halfway through? What if it's cancelled? What if I can't remember the previous books when a new one came out? So many "what ifs" for series. And like, this is nothing against series. Some of my favourite books are series! A good standalone can put as much into it as some trilogies. And I don't enjoy it when a book is artificially expanded to make a series...

So, my winner - Standalones.

2. Magic Earned or Magic Born?

Well see, the thing here is that these aren't mutually exclusive. Someone can be born with magical powers, but have to work hard to perfect them. And honestly, I love that. It's very similar to real life and a good message to take away that you may have a talent, but you have to work to perfect it.

So, I went for Magic Born.

3. Enemies to Lovers or Friends to Lovers

When done well, these are both good. When done badly, I dislike them both. Friends to lovers can make a relationship feel natural in it's development, but can also lead to the assumption that two people of the same orientation cannot be friends. Enemies to lovers can make for great banter, but can also make people believe that someone is only mean to them because they love them, and that's a host of problematicness.

Sooo... Friends to Lovers

4. Hilarious Banter or Emotional Ruin

Hm, again these aren't mutually exclusive. Books with hilarious banter can also end up emotionally ruining me if everything goes wrong for the sarcastic little darlings at the end. Hilarious banter is great to read and can lighten the tone, but emotional ruin books can have a huge impact when I find myself sobbing ten days after reading.

I went for Emotional Ruin

5. Love Triangle or Insta Love

Look, this might be unpopular, but I think Insta Love can be done well. When it's used just for initial attraction and the rest of the book is characters finding out that first impressions are not always right? I like that. I think people do form opinions of people based on first meetings, and while it's not always good to hold an idealised image of someone in your head, it does happen. Romeo and Juliet was basically built around the concept of breaking up Insta Love.

I was meant to be defending Insta Love, but I've ended up talking more about why it doesn't work. But you'll pry my love-at-first-sight fairy tales from my cold dead hands, and I think I dislike love triangles slightly more at this point.

Okay, fine, Insta Love.

6. Keyboard-smash Fantasy Names or Names that all Start With the Same Letter

Hmm. Right. Names that all start with the same letter.

That's it, that's my answer, and it's not even close. It's more realistic. At least have some consistent rules for your fantasy names that fit in with the supposed language of the world.

7. Mean Parents or Dead Parents

urgh I haven't been loving either recently, to be honest. Dead parents hit too close to home, and I've liked reading about good parents and families that make me feel all fluffy inside. I think it's important for teenagers to read about healthy relationships with parents so they have a level of understanding of what that is. But if they read about mean parents, teens learn that it's sometimes okay to break away from bad parents or cut contact. And with dead parents, teens can understand all the different ways grief can manifest in a person. And it helps me to read about others going through what I went through.

So... Dead Parents.

8. Supermodel Looks or Constantly Saying how Plain they are

Well again, these aren't mutually exclusive. There's nothing worse than a character who everyone treats as the former but thinks herself to be the latter. But than... it's ingrained in people not to be vain and to not admit if they are pretty, and when you are bombarded with images of the most beautiful people, it's hard to compare your everyday self on those terms. So maybe that is just a realistic response to societal ridiculousness.

I went for Supermodel Looks, because I think YA could actually do with a few more characters who know they're pretty and don't treat it like a forbidden term.

9. Face on the Cover or Typography on the Cover

Okay, a title in a nice font that fits in with the tone of the story is lovely. A face cover that represents the protagonist and shows them having fun on enjoying themself in some way? Awesome! A good example of one of my favourites is When Dimple Met Rishi. And I understand that face covers can be important for representation.

Both together is obviously best here, but I'd go with Face on the Cover.

10. Villain Turning a Little Good or Hero Turning a Little Bad

I really like heroes that have to make hard choices to save the world. And sometimes these aren't always good choices either way. And I love when they snap under the pressure and get angry the the world - well, not love, but it's realistic in any case. Slightly flawed heroes are the best kinds.

Final answer, Hero Turning a Little Bad.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A Review of The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After is a book by Emily X.R. Pan. After Leigh Chen Sanders mother commits suicide, she travels to Taiwan to reconnect with her grandparents. Having seen her mother as a red bird, she is determined to find out what her mother wants her to remember. With her relationship with Axel, her best friend, becoming weird lately since she kissed him, getting away from home for a time might be exactly what she needs to help her process her grief.

A note: while my edition was titled The Astonishing Colour of After, within the main text the spelling 'color' was used. As this is a book by an American author, I have chosen to use the American English term.

This book is part magical realism, and part contemporary, part travel book and part book about dealing with grief. You will feel like you are wondering around night markets with Leigh and tasting the delicious food. I will say that I did feel disconnected from the grief part of the story. It didn't feel like the grief I experienced, but than, these were two different circumstances. Leigh's grief is different from my grief, and that's okay. I feel like I also didn't click with Leigh's desire to have a relationship with her grandparents. I barely knew my grandparents - most of them died when I was young - and it's never been anything I've wondered about, because I really didn't know any different.

Leigh did annoy me slightly, but only by making realistic choices I could see a teenager in her shoes making. For example, there was the way she treated Feng, who was only trying to help. Speaking of Feng, I did feel like she was more tied into Leigh's family mystery than she actually seemed, but I didn't guess who she actually was. And I just wanted to shake Leigh and tell her to actually talk to Axel.

I always feel it is important to mention that I am no expert on suicide and depression. I did like how here, depression was named and how Leigh's mother didn't necessarily have reasons to commit suicide. To an outside viewer, she had a good life with a husband and daughter and a talent for the piano. She tried to get help with her depression, but it increasingly became harder to fight. Also, the points where she was getting help did seem to improve her somewhat, and she was off her medication at the end. We never find out why, but not all medication works in the same way for everyone. It can be a long process to find to right sort of help for yourself.

And the painting/art theme is super. I really love it when protagonists in YA have passions, and I really felt Leigh's coming through on the page. It was shown rather than told, and art is really hard to show in a written form since it relies so much on the visual. Pan uses her words to paint a picture in our minds of Leigh's drawings. In fact, most of the teens have something - Axel with music, Caro has her photography and Cheslin has fashion.

There are a few things that bothered me, though. One thing was the constant descriptions of feelings by using colour terms. They weren't common colours, either. Auerolin and indanthene blue are some of those that were used. Personally, they aren't colours I could call to mind if they are mentioned. Also, the chapters kept skipping time periods, sometimes in very quick sucession. One chapter would be in Leigh's present, then we'd be in the recent past, then back to Leigh's present for all of two paragraphs, to set up for us to see Leigh's grandmother as a young girl. There are a lot of chapters for a book this length - over 100 by the end.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy YA travel books.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Review of The Spinster Club series

The Spinster Club is a series by Holly Bourne. The three books are Am I Normal Yet?, How Hard Can Love Be? and What's a Girl Gotta Do?. There is also a sequel novella, And A Happy New Year? Three girls, Evie, Amber and Lottie start up a feminist group called The Spinster Club. Each book focuses on one of the girls, as their own story. Evie has recently been diagnosed with OCD and is trying to fit in, Amber goes to an American summer camp to reconnect with her mother and Lottie attempts to call out every instance of sexism she sees over the course of a month.

I was excited to read these, because I'd heard so much good about this series and had it recommended by many people, and I was excited by the feminism aspect. And because I did enjoy It Only Happens in the Movies, even though I did find some aspects of it problematic, but I didn't get too critical because it did make some important points.

I really liked Am I Normal Yet? - I thought the mental health aspect was very well done. Evie's struggles, plus relatable fears and insecurities, made her a great character. She's not always perfect and sometimes talks about her mental health issues in problematic terms. I also like how the book discusses that no-one is normal. One of their first club meetings have the girls talking about menstruation, and how we should be less ashamed of it. This is absolutely something I agree with, as we need to talk about things to understand why they are happening. Evie then talks about her period and getting bacterial vaginosis, and when have you ever heard that discussed in a YA book? This is what I needed to know about when my vagina started acting up. However, they spend a lot of it saying that periods are what links us as women, and that's just not the case. Not all women have periods and not everyone who has a period is a woman. Evie also seems to think that having your period means you can't make decisions as well, and that's exactly one of the stereotypes I'd like to see changed.

But I really did like the friendship between the three girls, and their drive to change things, even if all they can affect at this time is their own hometown and school

I didn't like How Hard Can Love Be? even half as much. While I like Amber in the other two books, here she's insufferable. And I get it, if someone could properly look into my thoughts I'm sure they wouldn't like me much either. Also, I'm not here for games of "Who-has-it-worse?" when it comes to social justice. The girls try to decide who is better for feminism, the US or the UK, but you can compare and contrast two countries without turning it into a competition. Why not do some research on the different laws of each nation? And you can't compare the US as a whole to the UK as there is so much individual variation between each state, and even within states in some places.

And my other big complaint with this book is the amount of slut-shaming. I was waiting for some point where Amber realises she judged Melody too harshly, like what (sort of?) happened with Jane in the last book. But Melody is such an over-the-top parody of a character that she's hard to take seriously. She could have made for a great point about how hard it is to act like the girl she thinks guys want her to be, while other women look down on her for it, even if she is comfortable in herself.

Oh, and there's this very odd part that fetishises Native Americans and discussions on Twilight and how creepy behaviour is no longer seen as creepy if it comes from someone who's hot. 1) yes it is 2) people have literally been complaining about Edward's controlling behaviour in Twilight since the book came out, don't tell me we don't complain if someone is hot. Oh, and if it's an American summer camp, why does it seem to run on the UK school timetable? Most would have started at the beginning of June, when schools break up. But this one seems to start when Amber gets there, and she's only there for six weeks, right? Which is in fact why summer camps are such a big thing out there, not because American parents don't want to look after their children as Amber assumes, but because most adults literally cannot get thirteen weeks off work. Oh, and can we talk about the sexism inherent in the evil stepmother character? In fact, none of the mothers in this series are particularly brilliant.

So, after How Hard Can Love Be? What's A Girl Gotta Do? seemed a lot better by comparison. There are still things that bothered me, however. Such as, if your feminist anti-capitalism statement makes things harder for minimum wage shop workers, a majority of whom are women, it's probably not either of those things. At least attach signs by string rather than gluing them on. Oh, and I would love to see my beautiful home city used for something other than it's university for a change. In Cambridge, the most common thing you'll see isn't students, it's large groups of tourists with cameras, closely followed by bicycles.

But this book does put some light on issues such as shaving and body hair removal, which I'm pretty close to just going "screw it" with, myself and the fact that we're not wearing make-up for men. It also shows the way in which women are often judged by the media and the way the public respond to that.

And I will end my review with my biggest point. These books focus primarily on white, straight feminist issues. I can understand Bourne not feeling like it was her story to tell, but some diversity in the minor characters and a discussion on intersectional feminism in their FemSoc meetings would have gone a long way to broach the topic.

So, do I recommend these books? Yes, but tentatively. They make a great introduction to feminism, but I would recommend that anyone who reads them starts to do their own research on the topic.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

A Review of The Starbound Trilogy

I fell in love with this series a while ago, just from the covers!
The Starbound Trilogy is a series by dual authors, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. There are three books: These Broken Stars, This Shattered World and Their Fractured Light. It takes place after earth has colonised much of the galaxy, terraforming many planets. Many companies have earned their fortune from the new frontiers of space, and one of these is the corrupt LaRoux Industries. A crashed spaceship sets off a chain of events that involves the daughter of LaRoux Industries owner and a war hero, a young soldier on a recently terraformed planet and a colonist and a con artist and a hacker. These six will find that their lives are linked in ways they don't understand by forces they'll never comprehend.

It's funny how the circumstances surrounding you when you read a book can affect how you feel about it.

I was given These Broken Stars as part of a joint gift from friends right after my mother died, so I couldn't pull off an objective review of this book for anything. It was just what I needed at that particular moment in time - a fun escape, a sci-fi adventure, and a sweeping romance - and was perfect for me to pick up when I needed something to take me away from everything.

However, and thinking about it, it's not the first time we've seen this. A rich young lady, and a poor man fall in love on a doomed (space)ship? A woman hunts for medicine to heal her love interest, suffering from a cut that became infected?

I did appreciate their characters, although again, they're not all that original. Tarver Merendsen is a soldier, war hero and a bit of a cynic, with a softer side, and a love of poetry. Lilac LaRoux is the rich socialite, with everything she could ever want, but with some hidden depths, too. She pretends to be cold and haughty because she's become wary of letting people get too close, and she's good with electronics. They are really the only two characters worth mentioning, since so much of the book is focused on their survival on a strange, deserted planet.

This Shattered World is a completely different kettle of fish. I loved Jubilee Chase, I loved that she was so different from Lilac, loved that she was a military captain. And I'm not saying that Lilac was bad, either - there are different kinds of strength. It's just interesting to see two female protagonists so radically different from each other in the same series.  Flynn Cormac, however, is just so completely nice without being boring that I found myself rooting for both sides. Well, not really rooting - it's one of those wars where you can see where both sides are coming from, but realise that things would be much better if they'd just talk it out.

When writing a kidnapping romance, you have to be careful not to imply things like Stockholm Syndrome. This book does it well. Feelings between Lee and Flynn don't really develop until after Lee is free. There's a much stronger military theme to this one, too, so if you don't like too much romance, you could start with this one. Just bear in mind that Lilac and Tarver do show up, and we also meet Sofia Quinn, protagonist of the next book. It's a well-done conflict, with shades of grey both on the rebels side and the military.

Their Fractured Light is perhaps my favourite book in the series. Sofia is easily my favourite protagonist. I loved how her skills are lying and manipulation, and she's mostly driven by revenge. Unusual for a female YA protagonist. If her first plan doesn't work out, she's got plans B, C and D all ready, and is good at adapting ideas on the fly. Gideon is a brilliant hacker who's forgotten how to trust, how to be with someone without telling a lie. This makes him a good match for Sofia, who has been hiding her identity for a while in order to get close to Roderick LaRoux.

Old friends do pop up in this book, and you will get more out of it if you've read the previous two. Other characters outside of the main six also get more development, too. By the end, I started to wish we could have a heist book with these six working as a team. They really gel, and it's a shame they don't spend more time together.

Kaufman and Spooner write together as one so well that I cannot tell who writes what. Their writing styles complement each other well.

I feel like this would be a hard series to recommend - maybe with too much romance for pure sci-fi lovers, and too much sci-fi for romance fans - but fans of cross-genre books, like me, should love it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Review of Starfish

Starfish is a book by Akemi Dawn Bowman. Kiko Himura struggles with anxiety. She's half-Japanese through her father's side, but feels like she doesn't understand her heritage. Her mother is emotionally abusive and she suffered sexual abuse from her uncle when she was younger. When her uncle moves in with them coupled with a rejection from the art school she wanted to go to, she heads West with Jamie Merrick to rethink about her art.

This book really should come with a trigger warning for emotional and sexual abuse.

That being said, that doesn't mean people shouldn't pick this book up. It's very worth reading. I like that books can allow us to learn about serious topics in a safe way. And that's really what trigger warnings are about - allowing people to pick stuff up when they are ready for it. Starfish manages to write about dark subjects but still in a beautifully written style that makes me see every moment vividly.

All my adoration to Kiko for being an actual geek as well as an art nerd. She likes geeky things, but has her own individual likes and dislikes within those categories. She likes comics and Superhero movies, but doesn't like Batman. She likes video games, especially fantasy ones. I was cheering when an early scene mentions her wearing a Legend of Zelda shirt. She likes Japanese animation as she can see herself in them - her brother is the manga fan.

As many people have said, Kiko is a very realistic depiction of someone with anxiety. However, not everyone with anxiety presents in exactly the same way. I'm okay at doing things by myself, but I often think that people wouldn't want to go with me to places anyway. I don't like starting conversations because I assume people don't want to talk. I hate talking on the phone and big groups. But I've had some of the best experiences of my life when I've pushed myself outside my comfort zone.

The romance, well. Jamie's not perfect. He's sometimes not sure how to handle Kiko's anxiety. And they wasted so much time that wouldn't have been if Jamie had gone around to his childhood friend's house to just say "hey, I'm staying with my cousins nearby, want to get coffee sometime?" But they were sweet. And A++ for her supportive friendship with Emery. I don't know if you could call her relationship with her brothers good, but I think they're at the point where they could contact each other if need be. And I loved the relationship she develops with the Matsumoto's! And with her father's other family, who I believe would have stepped in more if they knew how bad things were for the Kimura children.

And I'm absolutely here for the Japanese food appreciation.

I would recommend this book to people with an interest in art and with anxiety.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Review of American Panda

American Panda is a novel by Gloria Chao. Mei Lu is a seventeen-year-old starting premed at MIT, since skipping forth grade. She's trying to follow her (parents') dream of her being a doctor, contend with her own phobia of germs, and work in her own love of dance. When she starts having feelings for her classmate Darren Takahashi, and get back in touch with her estranged older brother, will she be able to stand up to her family when it matters most?

I loved it! I went through quite a bit of East Asian and immigrant literature when I was younger, and this can hold it's own with the best of them. And, there is good amounts of food. Not only are food descriptions just fun to read, they help draw you deeper into the world of a book and someone else's shoes.

I love that Mei's relationship with her family, while not solved by the end of the book, get better once she and her mother have a real conversation. From the early part of the book, she and her mother seemed to have a good relationship when it wasn't falling into some standard Asian parenting patterns. This style of parenting is discussed, and deconstructed, quite thoroughly within the book.

Also, there's a lot of girls supporting girls in this book! Mei stands up for her mother against her Aunt and Grandmother, gets on well with her roommate in the end, and discusses her family with Ying-na. I would have actually liked to see more of Helen, Mei's friend from school. She's only in briefly, though.

I also liked how Mei, while not feeling suited to being a doctor, also wasn't uninterested in science. Biology bored her, but she did pick up scientific facts over time, and she did like maths.  I also liked the solution to her dream. She was still doing her dancing on the side and wanting to open her own studio, with her MIT degree as a back-up. I think it is important for people to understand that a back-up plan isn't always a bad idea.

During the early part of the books, Mei gets an itch down below. How many times have you seen this issue discussed in books? Not many? I certainly haven't. This is what I needed when it first happened to me. The causes of something like this are hugely varied - Mei's was caused by her jeans. I needed to actually let someone take a look and not buy over-the-counter thrush creams in the hope they would work, because I was too shy to let someone see.

One of the later parts of the book has Mei going to a comedy club. Stand-up comedy, like music, is one of those things that is hard to represent in novels. So much of it relies on the atmosphere, and listening to the person speaking and their tone of voice. But in this case, I could imagine myself sitting in the club, listening to Ying-na. Her jokes are very, very well-written. Some may have gone over my head, but surely that's all the more reason for someone like me to watch her perform, so that I'd learn something.

I would recommend this book to people who like a cute, fluffy read with a little depth to it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A Review of A Thousand Perfect Notes

A Thousand Perfect Notes is a debut novel by C.G. Drews, who reviews books over on Paper Fury. Beck Keverich is forced to play the piano by his mother for hours a day. It effects his schoolwork and his social life. He's terrified of her, and scared for his little sister, Joey. When he gets partnered with August Frey for a school project, all he wants is for her to leave him alone. Will she manage to break through and get to know the real Beck Keverich?

Received an ARC for Kindle through Netgalley from Hatchette Children's Group. As this is an ARC, I'd like to recommend that the final version contains some sort of warning for child abuse and thoughts of self-harm.

My reading certainly has some odd patterns. This is the third book with a musically inclined teen with strict parents that I've read this year.

Drews has been a book blogger and reviewer for a long time, and I think that shows in her writing. Reviewing encourages you to think critically about the media you consume. However, it is still a debut novel, and I think there are places where she can improve. This isn't a bad thing - if no-one improved, if we all remained at the same level, they would be no motivation to try and get better.

I liked how Beck still enjoyed music and wanted to compose, despite his understandable dislike of the piano. I think he'd have been quite justified in throwing it all to the side. Joey is precious and I want to protect her. I was surprised her pre-school didn't raise concerns of an abusive household. Uninterested parents and unusual violent behaviour are things we look for. It is easy to write August off as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and on the surface, she is. She's the catalyst for Beck to change his life, and does quirky things such as going barefoot. But that discounts August's motivations, wanting to be with Beck because she liked his personality, and needing good grades for her future plans. I also think this discounts Beck's own development. I think he would have stood up to his mother at the end no matter what, as she had begun to turn her anger to Joey.

Books based on music are always tricky for me, since I have basically no ear for it. Also, it is one of those things that's hard to show in books. We can't actually hear someone play, so we have to rely on what we are told about a character's talent. It can hit show-don't-tell for me, because I want to see it.

Abusive parents have been an odd subject to me. Since my mother passed away from stroke, I haven't wanted to seek books out with them as a subject. I've preferred to read books where familial relationships are, if not always sunshine and rainbows, ones that can be solved with a good talk. This is not that book. This is the book where everything is not going to be okay, where leaving is the only option. And Beck's mother had a stroke, in the backstory. Just... I hate everything about stroke, okay?

Spoilers: I did like how Beck managed to get himself and Joey away from his mother. Sometimes, that's the only solution, and I would like to see more YA books normalising this outcome, saying that it is okay to leave abusive family members.

Reading on a Kindle was a new experience for me. Please don't take this as anything against the book, but a personal musing on myself. I'm a very sensory person. I like to be able to feel pages under my fingers and the book physically getting smaller. I like to be able to flick back to a cover and run my fingers over different textures on the front. This helps me keep my attention on the book. I was reading it in short little bursts, too.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy music, piano or composing.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Review of The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations is a book by Sara Zarr. Lucy Beck-Moreau, a gifted pianist, was a bright young thing in the world of music. However, after being lied to about her Grandmother's illness before a performance, she walks away. Her strict Grandfather lets her know that in his eyes, she has quit for good. When her brother's long time piano teacher dies, a new person, Will, takes her place. Will wants to let Lucy rediscover what she always loved about playing.

I can pretty much divide my thoughts about this book into The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good:
Family relationships that are rocky but still work! I loved Lucy's relationship with her Grandfather and how they eventually talked it through to make it work.

With any skill you do for others, whether that is something professional like piano, amateur baking or even something just for fun like this blog, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing it for someone else. Writing what you know someone else would like, playing someones favourite songs to appeal to them or baking their favourite cake. While this is often a nice thing to do, you have to watch that you don't lose what makes it fun for you in the process.

I also liked the side that was Lucy having been out of school for a while for her piano tours having to adjust to being on a schedule. Like it can be a huge jump for teenagers going from having a lot of freedom to being more restricted. I know when I started back at school after the summer, it was a bit of a shock. And the opposite is also true! School does not do enough to prepare you to work independently in places where you have to manage your time yourself, such as college or university.

The Bad:
Lucy's personality? Like I'm a firm believer that female characters don't need to be perfect, they just need to be people. But she was so self-centred at times that it was hard to take. This may or may not be a bad point, but apart from her music, she really didn't have much of a personality.

A girl fight that was over literally nothing. Lucy asks her best friend to accompany her to a party that she knows she won't enjoy. Lucy's best friend complains because Lucy was ignoring her to flirt with her music teacher, and leaves her without a ride.

The Ugly:
Lucy has a tendency to crush on older men. Especially her teachers. The narrative presents this as a natural extension of Lucy having grown up fast and dealing with adults a lot. And her teachers do nothing to discourage it, especially Will, who's married. I wish it had been presented negatively, or at least Lucy had discussed it with an adult in her life, like her parents.

Oh, and stroke. I hate it.

It's a shame that a book with a lot going for it was dragged down so much by the last point. I really don't like thinking that teenagers may get the idea that this is appropriate behaviour from adults in their life. I might give it a tentative recommendation to people who can see how unacceptable Will's is.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Birthday Book Haul!

So the end of March is another point where I tend to pick up many books at once, with the whole it being my birthday thing and all. I picked up 21 books in all. Here's a list of all the books I've bought, and why I chose them to add them to my shelves*

* shelves: a loosely defined term including: shoved on top of other books on shelves, piles on the floor and in boxes under my bed.

The first four are books I bought with my birthday money.
1. Renegades by Marissa Meyer: I really liked The Lunar Chronicles and also enjoyed Heartless by Meyer, so I thought it would be worth it to give this one a shot.
2. Kingdom of Sleep by E K Johnson: I enjoyed One Thousand Nights by this author, and I love fairy tale retellings.
3. I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson: I've heard lots of good things about this book, and Jandy Nelson in general. This will be my first book by her, so I hope I enjoy it.
4. The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven: I've heard this is a funny book with feminist themes which takes a good look at how women are treated by society.

The next eight are the books I asked for as birthday presents.
5, 6 & 7. Rebel of the Sands, Traitor to the Throne and Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton: One of the things I like to do if I get the chance to buy many books at once is buy a series. I hate it when I reach the end of one book and have to search in shops for the next one. And is it me or do they never have it when you're looking for it?
8, 9 & 10. Am I Normal Yet, How Hard Can Love Be and What's a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne: Bourne's books are known for their positive portrayal of feminism, female friendships and dealing with mental illness.
11. Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner: I really enjoyed the first two books in the Starbound trilogy, and it's proved next to impossible to get hold of over here.
12. American Panda by Gloria Chao: I've had my eye on this one for a while. I read quite a lot of East Asian literature in my teens, and the cover has looked so adorable. One of the best things about reading is getting to learn about experiences that aren't our own.

The next three are the ones I bought while in London.
13. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This is my special, collector's edition that is signed by Angie Thomas. I'm planning to reread this book using this edition, but I've got lots on my TBR pile first!
14. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao: This book is an East Asian fantasy, a fairy tale retelling and a villain origin story? Sign me up. I picked this one up as I haven't been able to find it near me.
15. It's Not Like it's a Secret by Misa Sugiura: One of the things I wanted to try this year was reading more book with characters that are LBGT in them. And I'm hopeful that this one may include some Japanese cultural references, too.

These last six are books I bought with a gift card from work.
16. Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey: This is the third book in The Expanse series, a Sci-Fi epic reminiscent of Firefly and Mass Effect. At least one other friend of mine is into this series, too, and we've both really enjoyed it.
17. When We Collided by Emery Lord: I've loved all other Emery Lord books that I've read. It was a pretty natural choice to buy this one.
18. The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney: This one was a pure cover buy. But look at it, can you blame me?
19. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: You may be aware that I've already read and enjoyed this one. But it's such a well-known book that I knew I had to give it a try.
20. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro: I tried to read Never Let Me Go in my teens, but I didn't get into it at that age. I wanted to give Ishiguro another try, and this book seems relatively slim, so it felt like a good choice for getting used to the writing style.
21. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: I've heard a lot of good things about Holly Black lately, and I read a good review of this book specifically back when it first came out. I felt this might be a good one to start with as it's a standalone, before looking into her longer series.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

A Review of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is a book by Judy Blume, first published in 1970. Margaret Simon is just about to start sixth grade, and has moved from New York to New Jersey. She quickly fits into a group with Nancy, Janie and Gretchen. Over the book, Margaret deals with some of the ordeals that come with being eleven, and growing up. She also starts to question her religion as she struggles to understand if she fits into one, not being raised as part of any one in particular.

The reason why I felt like a forty-eight-year-old book needed a review is to establish if a forty-eight-year-old book can still be relevant, relatable and worth reading in today's society. TLDR: yes, it can. If teachers are still expecting young people to find Shakespeare interesting, this one definitely should still be in every middle-school library around the world. Also: yes, Shakespeare is interesting, but I think teachers could do a little more to make it enjoyable to study, but that's another post. Anyway, back to my original point - learning about other people's experiences is one of the most important things about reading, so why shouldn't children read about how people dealt with these issues back then? And many, many, many of Margaret's anxieties are those shared almost universally by girls of a certain age. Her struggle with religion is a big one that is possibly more relevant today, and I'd love to know if children from interfaith religions can relate.

(I think my edition may have been edited slightly - when the girls have their periods, the only thing they are mentioned as using with them are pads. I think this is okay, as it really does give the book a timeless feel. The lack of mention and emphasis on technology can feel odd, but it also helps it feel less dated.)

I've been on a mission to find MG and YA books that deal with religion in a positive way. The use of the word God in the title may put some people off. However, I'm atheist and I definitely didn't find it too heavy-handed. Religion actually isn't a big feature in this book. Margaret is part of a mixed-faith Jewish and Christian family, and so they didn't raise her as part of either faith exactly. She uses God to tell her troubles to, rather like an imaginary friend, a diary, or well, praying.

It is very much middle-grade. It deals with problems that people have in that weird just-before-teenage period, and Margaret and her friends are in sixth grade. I'm way, way outside the target audience, and it's one of those books that I think you had to be the right age to read. I have no nostalgia for this particular book, and it didn't give me that funny ha-ha, remember those silly preteen anxieties feeling, either. To be honest, all it reminded me of was how trivial my issues at that age seemed.

There's also an actual girl club/gang which is amazing. Janie and Margaret have a really nice blossoming friendship, Nancy does do some awful things but then again she is twelve, and Gretchen rounds them out nicely. Great for children to see a supportive female friendships discussing their anxieties, especially around periods. If people don't discuss these things, how will they know if their experience is unusual? Margaret and her friends to some realistic preteen things, such as lying to fit in and slut-shaming another girl. However, you should read until the end to find out about that.

Margaret would be almost 60, and possibly a Grandmother herself. In the book, she's eleven. Boys are starting to become an issue, and while I know this is realistic, I just wanted to tell her don't worry about them, just enjoy being eleven! Refreshingly for this age, there's no romance, just crushes. Same with wanting her period, I would much prefer to just not have one. And being desperate for a bra and trying to increase her bust. Why are we always in such a hurry to grow up? Honestly, being an adult can suck at times.

Sometimes, you never understand how much tiny representations can matter until you read them. Margaret is an only child, and she likes it. She's not constantly wanting a sibling or talking about how it might have made her spoilt. It's mentioned once in the entire book! This is really small representation overall, but it made me feel validated.

I recommend this book to preteens who want to find out more about their bodies. Actually, it's more comprehensive than the sex education I received in school!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

London 24/3/18 - Bookish Things - Meeting Angie Thomas and the Charles Dickens Museum

Since my birthday is the 25th March, I decided to treat myself to a day in London on the Saturday before. Angie Thomas, the author of The Hate U Give, was giving a talk and a book signing, so I had to go to that, and I decided to make a bookish themed day of it. So I also popped to the Charles Dickens Museum, and into the huge four floor Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I also found some nice things to eat during the day. What made this day different is that I was entirely on my own!

Under a cut for all the pictures!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Review of Things A Bright Girl Can Do

Things a Bright Girl Can Do is a book by Sally Nicholls. Evelyn Collis, May Thornton and Nell Swancott are three very different girls who all get caught up in the women's suffrage movement in some way. However, the Great War looms in the 1910's, and women find themselves working jobs that used to be the sole realm of men. Between working, studying, peace movements and romance, campaigning for the vote falls by the wayside.

The women's suffrage movement didn't take up as much of this book as I thought - more of it deals with the First World War and the effects it had on women's rights and families in Britain. It's still a very good look at the lives of young women in the mid-1910's.

Evelyn is rich and wants to go to university. She's also ignorant of world events, a lot of which comes from her being forbidden from reading papers. Her interest in the women's suffrage movement seems to come more from a place of annoying her parents. However, she ends up the one most involved with the Suffragettes over the course of the story, actually going to jail and through hunger strike. May means well, but she is brash and speaks without thinking. Being raised by her mother in a house of modern ideals and non-violent activism, her views are different from others of her time. This contrasts and makes her clash with Nell, a working class girl, who does what she must to keep her family alive. It's also nice to see positive relationships between men and women in a book about women's suffrage.

This book looks at the intersection between the suffrage movement and class, and points out that at the time women were fighting, not even men's suffrage was universal. It also looks at LBGT issues, but not linked so much into the movement. May and Nell begin a relationship, and Nell could be trans, although they lack the vocabulary to describe it properly. This does lead to what we'd consider misgendering and deadnaming with a minor character.

Historical fiction can sometimes seem slow, by necessity, as it required so many details. However, the chapters here are short, and that helps keep the pacing up. I would have liked to have seen Evelyn interact a little more with May and Nell. I would have also liked to see more on the intersection of race with the women's suffrage movement.

I would recommend this book to people with an interest in the Suffragette movement and those who want to read historical fiction but aren't sure where to start.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A Review of Eliza Rose

Eliza Rose is a book by Lucy Worsley. It is also known as Maid of the King's Court. Elizabeth Rose 'Eliza' Camperdowne is the heiress to a noble family in Tudor Derbyshire, which have however fallen on hard times. The weight of upholding the family falls upon her finding a rich man to marry. When Eliza finds herself encased in the King's court, it seems like a possible outcome. But with her cousin, Katherine Howard, playing her own game, will Eliza manage to catch the eye of one of the men at court?

Well, any book that attempts to shed new light on a historical woman treated unfairly by history is alright with me. Katherine Howard is not one of the more well-known of Henry the Eighth's wives, so learning more about her was interesting to me. This isn't a book about female friendships, but of two women coming to understand each other, despite their differences.

Katherine Howard was the fifth wife, the order of which is Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymore, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Catherine Parr. The fates of all six of them are taught to me as they are to all British schoolchildren, but I don't know how well known they are to non-Brits. Can you spoil known history? Just to be on the safe side, spoiler: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. /spoiler

Eliza, who is completely fictional, is the only child of a noble family, and as such, a lot of the pressure to support the family falls to her. While she understands this, she is also headstrong. I find it interesting in historical fiction to read about women who are determined to do what is expected of them by society. A lot of them rebel rather than do their duty, and while that is awesome, it doesn't represent the experience of most women from the time. Many of her actions come from her need to secure herself a good match as the only way to support herself in life. She's also not always perfect - she quickly learns that bragging about her family's wealth is not the way to make friends. However, she is not the most interesting character in her story. That would be Katherine Howard. She's flirtatious and flightly, bold and brash. Friendly when she wants to be, and cruel when she doesn't. Her actions - and the actions of Eliza - make perfect sense from a woman in their time.

I also should say that while Eliza complaining that her willowy figure and red hair is unattractive can seem odd to modern readers, in Tudor times it was women with a more fuller figure who were favoured.

As for the romance, it was the one point when the book fell flat. Eliza treated Ned pretty badly, at some points. As I could see her narration and knew her reasoning, I didn't resent her for it. But I couldn't see why Ned would still have the same level of devotion to her, at least not without a conversation between them when she explained things.

Please read the ending of the book, where Worsley explains why she wrote it, for extra information. I'd also like to direct you to in interview with Worsley conducted by the Telegraph here.

The book starts with a 12-year-old Eliza, but she grows up quick, ending the book at nearly 20. There are a few situations more suited to older readers over the course of the book, as well. You know, even though that interview above keeps calling it a children's book, it's quite firmly YA. There's nothing wrong with children's books, adults can still read children's books, not every children's book is suitable for all children, and many children get a lot out of reading adult books.

Recommended to people with an interest in Tudor history!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

A Review of The Fandom

The Fandom is a debut novel by Anna Day, who brought to life an idea Angela McCann submitted to the Chicken House Big Idea Competition. Violet and her brother Nate, along with her best friend Alice, are huge fans of something called The Gallows Dance. Their other friend, Katie, is just along for the ride. However, at a convention, they find themselves sucked into the world of the story. Violet has to take the role of the protagonist and steer the story to it's pre-written conclusion.

Ah. Oh dear.

I don't enjoy disliking books. I much prefer to read a book and be able to point out things about it I liked. I think it's also nice to be able to tell others to read a book, because I enjoyed it. However, I also must be honest, and I didn't like this one.

And that's a shame, because the concept was good. I'm not saying it was original or unique, but I think it's the first time it's been done specifically based to YA dystopian fiction? This means that Day can parody the conventions of the genre. Things like the way love interests always have silly names, an unusual but pleasant scent and the way their eyes are described. I'm not sure if things I am pointing out where meant to seem overdone for that very reason, in fact.

Under a cut because it's a negative review, for spoilers, and it became long. The style of this one is different to my normal reviews, too.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

ADHD and Me

I've been meaning to do a blog on ADHD, and why I think I might have it, for a while. After mentioning it in my last book review, I decided it was time to write this post. First, I should mention that there are two types of ADHD - hyperactive and inattentive - and the combined type. I seem to be mostly inattentive with some combined elements.

My ADHD has never been officially diagnosed. I thought I should start with that. I'm in adult education, and I saw the school special educational needs officer about it. After listening to my story, and watching my behaviour, she agreed it was likely. My behaviour while talking to her was a constant subconscious and involuntary flipping of my phone case. Open, shut. Open, shut.

She gave me some books on the subject to take home and go over with Mum. I read the list of symptoms out to her, and she agreed with many of them. One thing she said was that as a child, I could never stay with one activity, I used to 'flit' from one to the other. So we made an appointment with the GP, and he referred me to a mental health service. Of course, mental health services on the NHS do take time to get through, and when I finally got my referral, it was just after Mum had died. It no longer seemed important.

I'm going to go through a list of symptoms that I have, and how they relate to ADHD. It doesn't mean that everyone who has these symptoms has ADHD - I don't even know for sure that I do - but surely that means there's nothing wrong with me taking on board some of the coping mechanisms if they work for me. This is why the increased access to information on mental health that we have in this day and age is a good thing.

Even before fidget spinners were invented, I always needed something to do with my hands. I've broken more necklaces than I care to admit by swinging the chain around my fingers because it was the closest thing to hand. I used to take pens apart for something to do, which inevitably lead to losing the springs and my parents getting annoyed that they now didn't work. My fidget spinner gets a lot of use.

I've struggled to make friends. The ones I do have I've met under unusual circumstances, or have known all my life. I was bullied a bit growing up and miss social cues. I speak without thinking and blurt things out. This can go two ways with people with ADHD. Either they have lively, bubbly personalities that allow them to make friends easily, or they find it hard to relate to their peers. People with ADHD can be shy, quiet. I daydream often in conversation, which means I miss things that are said.

I'm a chronic procrastinator. I often procrastinate things I want to do. I've been meaning to write this since this time last year, to give an example! I'm also disorganised, and it takes me a while to make sure I have all the right tools together to do some work. Homework was often forgotten or left at school. As a reasonably intelligent person, I was able to hide my lack of work with excuses and looking interested. I was the one with my hand up in class, which was actually a coping mechanism to keep my mind on the subject by giving it something to do. Nothing made my mind wander like my classmates taking five minutes to answer a question I knew. And then suddenly, oops, missed half the lesson. But as soon as work required a decent bit of revision, my grades tanked. And I often start something with the best of intentions, but get distracted and never manage to finish. And it can be hard for me to pull away from one activity to start another. I'll think "I'll start in five minutes" and before I know it, three hours have gone by.

Keeping my room tidy is an exercise in futility. The best I can do is put things away every few days, and give it a good clean if people are coming around. If I put something down, especially if it's small, there's a good chance I'll have to go hunting again for wherever the hell I put it.

I was actually given some special educational needs classes growing up. One for hand-eye co-ordination. Speech and language was recommended, but my parents said no, I'd grow out of that. There was one in Secondary School to make me socialise better with the class, because nothing makes a teenager more accepted by her peers than singling her out. Dyslexia was suspected, since I often misspelled words. But my reading was fine, advanced for my age in fact. My misspellings are often more because my mind tried to process the second part of the word before it was finished with the first one, so letters would be swapped around. I remember autism/Asperger's being mentioned, too. One of my teachers suggested I got tested for a vague 'something' but nothing came of that because he never specified, so my parents didn't know what it was.

I hyperfixate. The best example I can find of these growing up is Pokémon and Harry Potter. My need to know everything I possibly could about these worlds, and when I wasn't actively engaging with them, I was researching them. My wandering mind in class was often thinking of one of these two subjects.

The way I read is certainly odd. I read fast out of necessity, otherwise I have a tendency to get bored with the material. I skim several passages, often with the result that I have to go back and reread because I missed something. And I'll often read a few pages, then stare out the window, than a few more, than look at my phone for a while. But it's a method that works for me, and I'm happy with it.

There's a good few times I got into trouble as a child which I think might have been related to it. When I was four, we went into the school hall for my first PE lesson, and there was an uncovered piano that I made a beeline for. I used to 'play' one round at a relatives. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to, surely? Mum used to retell it saying the teacher said I had been "really naughty." I'm not sure if this one is anything to do with ADHD, or just being four years old. Later, I got in trouble for blurting out "It's a spider!" in Charlotte's Web. Not sure how much this was a spoiler, considering there was a spider on the cover. There was the time I was in trouble at eleven for drawing on a spelling test, because how dare you show any sort of creativity in school.

There was one time I found a little scrap of paper under a chair at school - I was about seven - and picked it up and ripped it into progressively smaller pieces. The teacher was talking, and I seem to remember the subject was the religion of Islam, although my memory may be slightly faulty. The teacher told me to pick it up and put it in the bin, then stand at the front and tell the class what I've learnt about Muslims. I repeated almost her whole lecture back to her. "I've learnt that their holy book is called the Koran, and they worship at a mosque. I've learnt that the women often cover their hair..." It was like by engaging my subconscious mind on something mindless, my conscious was better able the process the information.

I have so many novels that I started writing and never finished. Textbook having many projects simultaneously on the go. The longer I spend away from one, the harder it is to get back to it.

I act impulsively - bad financial control is how this one presents itself. I'll walk into a shop not meaning to buy anything and come out with something that I really don't need. Especially bad around books. And sometimes if there's nothing in the house I think 'oh, I'd like to go and buy myself some chocolate' followed by 'but you really don't need to' but it can be hard to shake the idea. Although I can monitor this one somewhat now I am aware of it.

I find it hard to sleep. I used to stay awake longer than I should, playing video games. When I actually went to bed, I toss and turn for ages. I'm better at monitoring when I actually go to bed now, but going to sleep is another matter. It still takes me a good few hours to get to sleep. It can take me several hours more than anyone else in the room. And if I'm sleeping in the same room as someone else, forget it.

I don't actually get bored easily because I switch from one activity to the other a lot. I am quite good at keeping my own mind occupied when left to my own devices. If I'm in a situation where I have to sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, my mind will wander, but often I won't get bored because of what I'm thinking about. If a task is repetitive and mindless and I have to keep on it for a long time, then I may get bored.

I can almost run a checklist. Bad handwriting? Check. A temper? Sometimes. Impatient? Check. Difficulty following instructions? Check. Procrastinating, especially when a task is difficult? Check. Often dropping a task before it is completed? Check. Forgetfulness? Check.

Like I said, I don't know for sure that I have it, but similar coping mechanisms seem to work. Just understanding my symptoms went a long way to allowing me to control them. I am not on any sort of medication, but I've heard it can work amazingly well for people. Fidget spinners are brilliant while I am relaxing at home, saving other items from going missing. Writing down appointments as soon as I can is huge - I forgot times of my own exams in school. Making sure I get into a habit - phone goes there, glasses go here - helps me to know where they are. I often turn up places early, because my time management is bad. I start tasks I need to do first and get them done, before I reward myself with something I like doing. I also like to go for a walk in the morning - exercising, especially outside, is recommended - it wakes me up and makes me feel prepared for the day. If there is anything I need to take with me, I put it somewhere where I can't miss it - I like the front door handle.

ADHD is often undiagnosed in girls, because they don't fit the stereotype of someone with ADHD, and girls learn to hide symptoms to fit in with adult expectations earlier. The inattentive subtype can be hard to spot, too. The quiet girl at the back of the class who's often looking out the window instead of working may display a few symptoms. If you think you might have it, do your own research, and ask someone who's known you since childhood where they think you fit.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Review of Goodbye, Perfect

Goodbye, Perfect is a book by Sara Barnard, the author of Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Eden McKinley has been best friends with Bonnie Wiston-Stanley since they were eight. Bonnie is a straight-A student but Eden struggles with schoolwork. When Bonnie runs away with her boyfriend, Eden is dragged into the police enquiry and media circus that follows. But her small lies of omission start to add up, and Eden questions if keeping Bonnie's secret is the right thing to do.

I think the best way I can describe this is that it reads like a grown-up Jacqueline Wilson novel. A lot of serious issues are discussed over the course of the book, including the way society treats teenage girls for their mistakes and keeping secrets. The idea of keeping secrets is drilled into us from birth, but some secrets are not good ones. There are secrets that are worth telling an authority figure/parent/someone you trust about, because they're necessary for the safety and welfare of yourself and others.

Eden is amazingly different for a book protagonist. She's not a fan of school, nor does she read a lot. She has dyslexia and is often considered one of the problem students. She was adopted after being in foster care for a while, because her mother was neglectful. But she likes to garden, she discovered her interest in it when she was adopted by the McKinley's. Because of Eden's background, family being not just blood is a constant theme. Carolyn and Bob are amazing and the exact kind of parents I want to be. Raising two children from foster care, they did need to be creative. There's also Valerie, their older biological daughter, who is trying so hard and Eden can't see how much she's trying. Daisy is Eden's biological sister, and she had ADHD and dyscalculia. As someone with "strongly suspected" ADHD myself, I did appreciate this, but I don't want anyone to assume that Daisy is a representation of everyone with ADHD. It was also good to see a protagonist in a safe, steady relationship from the beginning of the book.

I feel like I should mention something of Bonnie in this section, but Bonnie doesn't always feel like a fully realised character, instead of a plot device. While she's book-smart, she's not wise, lacking street-smarts and common sense. You find out over the book that Bonnie isn't as perfect as she seems. One of the big themes is that people do not normally have the perfect life they might appear to. In fact, the point where I connected more with Bonnie is when Eden explains how she's not actually always nice. But for much of the book, Bonnie is just the reason why the plot happens, instead of a character herself.

Some of the comments online about Bonnie were awful, and serve as a reminder to us that we should watch what we post online - we never know who might read it. Especially something like this, where friends and family are likely to search. Her relationship is never romanticised, but other people perceive it as such.

Also, Eden likes gardening. As in the Garden of Eden, I see what you did there. Her little sister, who she'd do anything to protect but also finds annoying, is called Daisy.

Another issue this book discusses is the labels we are given at school. Eden is 'easy' even though she hasn't had sex often. Bonnie is the nerd who no-one expected to do something like this. Eden and Daisy are both labelled as a 'problem' and 'difficult' and if that's all you expect to see when you look at a student, that's what you'll see and what's to prevent them from starting to live up to their labels?

My only criticism is a minor plot hole. Why didn't Eden think to google the name of the cat cafe immediately? It should be instinctive to most teenagers. Also, for a video game that you would play together, Portal is not the best pick. The first Portal game was singleplayer only. It's possible that Eden was playing, and Connor was looking over her shoulder. But the use of together implies multiplayer. It's possible that they were playing Portal 2, and Eden doesn't care to specify. But Portal is a puzzle game, and is not the sort of game where you could play it over and over again. Once you can solve the puzzles consistently, it loses it, because you don't get a new experience.

I would recommend this book to older teens and above who can appreciate the deeper themes. It was also nice to look back on my GCSE years, especially that hectic exam period.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A Review of Undercover Princess

Undercover Princess is the first book in The Rosewood Chronicles series by Connie Glynn, who is also know as Noodlerella on YouTube. Lottie Pumpkin has been accepted to the prestigious Rosewood Hall on a scholarship. She's always had her head in the clouds, and a love of fairytales. So it might be fate that she ends up rooming with Ellie Wolf, who happens to be the Princess of Maradova.

Look, I'm easy to please. If your book is about royalty, I'll at least give it a chance. Bonus points if it's also about princesses.

Rosewood Hall isn't a school for royalty, exactly. It's a posh boarding school, for all intents and purposes. It does well with students who are exceptional, have the potential to be exceptional, or whose parents are paying for the school in hopes it will make them exceptional. High-ranking politicians, Olympic athletes, famous people of stage or screen - in short, exceptional in their respective fields, even if they aren't always household names. It actually fills a unique niche, giving readers a fictional school they may actually want to attend. I can't remember this being a thing since Harry Potter, and Rosewood Hall is distinct in that it does keep to mostly normal lessons.

I did like Lottie. I liked her love of fairytales - she reminds me of me. I felt at first there was a lot of telling and not showing. Lottie's circumstances at the school are stated to be exceptional, and there's nothing extraordinary about her. However, as the book goes on, she displays deduction skills and a level of quick thinking that weren't apparent at first glance. Ellie is very much a cookie-cutter rebellious princess. There's not a lot to say, but I would like some character development of her either accepting her role as a way she can change things, or having the courage to reject it altogether. Binah reads like an exaggerated parody of the "smart people use big words" stereotype. It did get on my nerves after a while. Most of the rest of the cast here aren't distinctive enough to be worth mentioning.

I wasn't sure how anyone could mistake a princess with a wild reputation with shy and anxious Lottie, even if they did think she was putting it on. Especially when Princess Eleanor Wolfson was hiding under the name Ellie Wolf. Brilliant disguise.

So was I the only one to think there might be something between Lottie and Ellie? Lottie feels jealous when Ellie hangs out with another girl, and Ellie sings a song for her about a Princess and her portman/partizan who were close as more then friends.

I was actually curious about both the terms, portman and partizan, so I looked them up. I can't find any reference to portman being used as a specific term for someone who disguised themselves as a royal to protect the royal. Any googling just got me a list of Natalie Portman films in which she played royals. I realise Glynn did make up the concept of partizan, but I was curious if maybe it was an ancient word for a soldier in any language. I did understand that neither are in common use or would be accepted practice today, but I was curious if there was any historical context to either of them. It seems more like Glynn invented the terms. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is something to bear in mind.

The writing style could use a little work. I'm being nice, because it is, at least, readable. Sometimes the sentence structure is odd, and the dialogue makes it hard to tell who is who. The passage of time, and therefore the pacing of the book, is jumpy, too. We spend the majority of the book in the time between September and Christmas, but we seem to jump from the 9th of January to summer in about two chapters.

I'd like to know a bit more about the country of Maradova. It's near Russia, used to be part of the British Empire so it speaks English, that I can buy. But surely Russian is still commonly spoken? What did it do in the Second World War? What's the capital city called? Any famous monuments? Is it part of the EU, does it use the Euro?

Look, it's not going to change the world, and it's not going to be studied in literature classes 100 years from now. But reading is 90% context. For a fun, relaxed afternoon it was good. And if you're going on holiday to, oh I don't know, DisneyWorld or something, it's an easy read that also fits in the theme.

I recommend this book as one to bridge the gap between MG and YA. The protagonists are fourteen, older than most middle grade but younger than a lot of young adult, and it's written in an easy reading style.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Six Foods Brits Should Try in America (And Four You Can Skip)

One of the good things - in fact perhaps the best thing - about America is the sheer variety of foods and cuisines on offer. Anyone who thinks it's all burgers and fries probably hasn't been to the States! With so many different people who have immigrated and bought their own food cultures with them, it's bound to be varied. For the purposes of this list, I will keep it to foods that can be defined as broadly American, with some regional Southern specialities. Also didn't include steak/burger/fries/hot dog etc. Most of these things are easy enough to find in most parts of the world nowadays, and the purpose of this list is to tell people about things they might not have considered.

1. Corn dog - if you only ever try one stereotypical American food, make it one of these. A hotdog style sausage on a stick, deep fried in a very smooth, crispy batter. If you've ever had a battered sausage from the chippy, you have the idea. The batter is perhaps a little sweeter than I first expected, but it's still a nice savoury snack.
2. Grits - I know, I know. This one surprised me too! I assumed I was going to dislike grits before I even tried them. I'd read about fictional characters disliking them, and from the name I thought they would be gritty. They're actually really creamy, smooth. The best think I can compare it to is soup. I said to one of my friends that it would be good in wintertime, which lead to a joking "Sorry, what's that?" since he's from a hotter state. They do need a little extra seasoning to bring out the flavour - salt, pepper or butter - the ones I had came with cheese on top.
3. Proper BBQ - Americans really do have a good handle on doing BBQ. They keep the meat juicy and tender, and apply the right amount of sauce. Anything with the word "rib" in it is always a good idea from a specialist BBQ place. Pulled pork sandwiches are also neat. However, if you're not used to them, I have to remind you to watch your portion sizes! If you're coming from anywhere outside of the States, you probably aren't used to so much food.
4. Funnel cakes - deep fried sweet batter, topped with icing sugar. What's not to like?
5. Pumpkin pie - Americans do sweet pies well. See if you can't get your hands on canned pumpkin - foreign section in the supermarket or Amazon - and try it yourself! Most come with a recipe, or you can find one online, and they're not too tricky to make.
6. Chicken and waffles - the sweet and savoury mix works really well here. Americans are known for their odd food combinations, but when they find something that works, it really works.

These are four American foods I found didn't live up to the hype. I still recommend trying them out of curiosity to see what the fuss is about, but they aren't on my list of foods I seek out when I'm over there. The thing with a lot of these foods is that they're not actually bad, per se, but are just strange to my tastes.

1. White gravy - if my American friends knew this was on my list, they'd never invite me back. Sorry guys, but I just don't get it. It has very little flavour, and when it's on top of something like fried chicken that really needs a flavourful sauce, it doesn't do anything. Don't even get me started on the thing you call biscuits and gravy. Those aren't biscuits and that is not gravy!
2. Hershey's chocolate - if you're used to Cadbury's, Hershey's tastes awful. I'm sorry, but it's just a fact of life. It literally tastes of vomit. Which is possibly because of the presence of butyric acid in it.
3. Cinema popcorn - they put melted butter on it. The butter makes the popcorn go soggy. Popcorn is supposed to have something of a bite to it. Mixed sweet/salty from a UK cinema is way better.
4. Bacon - It's a tiny strip mostly of fat, cooked until it shrivels up so that it's no longer there. Wait until you go home, and have bacon with a proper amount of meat on it. I have no idea how Americans are obsessed with this when their bacon isn't even good.

There's my list! It's harder for me to figure out this list in reverse, since I don't really know what would appeal to American tastes. I was trying to get an even five and five, but I ended up with six and four. Do you have any suggestions or anything you think I've missed from this list?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

A Review of Batman: Nightwalker

Batman: Nightwalker is the second book in the DC Icons series, written by Marie Lu. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo was released last year, and Catwoman by Sarah J Maas and Superman by Matt de la Pena will be released at a later date. Bruce Wayne is an orphan billionaire - do I really need to recount Batman's backstory? - who is sent to do community service at Arkham Asylum after getting in trouble on his eighteenth birthday. While there, he becomes interested in one of the inmates, Madeleine. What she tells him may be crucial in saving Gotham City from it's latest threat, the Nightwalkers. But can her information be trusted?

I really did like this book. I think I preferred Wonder Woman: Warbringer slightly more, but this was still a fun and fast read. This was my first book by Lu, and I will definitely seek out some of her other books.

I think the most important thing to bear in mind is that this book isn't about Batman per se, but about eighteen-year-old Bruce Wayne. It's also firmly AU, so you have original characters and canon characters that act unlike their counterparts in other canon. It is, for all intents and purposes, fanfiction, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Bruce Wayne is young and impulsive, making mistakes, but his heart is in the right place. He's also an idiot at times. Well, I'd say bad at reading people, good with tech. He isn't quite Batman yet, and that's okay. He has two friends, Dianne Garcia and Harvey Dent (yes, I know...) who are there to be his friends, not receiving much character development themselves. Other side characters, such as Richard Price, get more backstory in a couple of lines. This book has a talent for making you sympathise with even people who dislike Batman, and no-where is this better shown then in Batman's discussions with Madeleine. I found myself constantly questioning if she was telling the truth, and if there was even a grain of truth in what she was telling Bruce, did that make her sympathetic?

I actually feel like making Batman do community service in Arkham Asylum was a good idea, in theory. It's the sort of work a rich boy would never have to do, and most wouldn't like. Credit to Bruce, he never complained more than a few snarky comments at the end of the day. It would also show the type of place he could end up if he went down a dark path. I just think it might have been a better idea to keep him away from the inmates.

I have to credit this book with one of the best descriptions of grief I've read. "People always expect you to move on so quickly after you experience loss, don't they? For the first few months, the sympathy pours on you. Then, gradually, it dwindles down, and one day you find yourself standing alone at the grave site, wondering why everyone else has moved on to caring about something else while you stay right here, silently carrying the same hurt."

So, if the security cameras in Arkham record voices, as is implied, why would they need to wire Bruce up to record Madeleine's voice? Bruce tells Draccon to check the security cameras for the record of Madeleine talking to him, Madeleine speaks directly to them to pass a message, and Bruce reminds her that she could lose her bed, even though she's not supposed to know he was wearing a wire. But then, when it's convenient, they can't hear? Maybe they're just not very sensitive, and only record loud sounds?

I would recommend this book to Batman fans, who don't mind something being a little loose with canon, and are looking for a fun read.

Friday, 9 February 2018

I Love the Olympics

I really do. Both flavours, Winter and Summer. And it does seem weird, because I don't care all that much about any other type of sporting event. Maybe the odd football game if it's a big England match, but that's it. Why does this one event seem to catch my imagination like no other sports do?

For one thing, it's only on every two years, on the four year cycle between Summer and Winter. Some sporting events feel like they're on all the time. Formula 1 seems to take up a good three quarters of the year, Wimbledon is once a year and it seems like there's football on every day. But the Olympics are rare enough to still seem like a novelty.

I especially love the opening and closing ceremonies! They're as much about culture as they are sport, showcasing all the best things about a nation. One of the best ways to understand somewhere is to learn about it's culture. I enjoy all the pomp and ceremony of the opening, raising the flags, lighting the torches and making the oaths. I also really like the Parade of Nations, and Dad and I play a game where we try and guess the country coming next from the flag. And I like the more relaxed atmosphere of the Closing Ceremony, with every country coming in together and it feeling more like one big party.

It's nice to see sports other than the usual. Normally, if there's a sport on UK TV, it's one of a select few. But the Olympics showcases more unusual sports, ones you don't always see. There's always something on, and sometimes I tune in for fun on a random sport, and cheer for all countries if neither is Team GB. And, at least over here, Women's and Men's events get the same amount of coverage and interest, something you don't often see in a huge sporting competition.

With the state of the world at the moment, it's nice to see countries coming together for a little friendly competition. I like it when things aren't taken too seriously, and if we get a medal, that's awesome, if we don't, that's cool too. These athletes are the best of the best, and few people can do anything like what they do. Sport has a unique power to bring people together - the Christmas Day football match in the First World War is a favourite of mine - and no-where is that shown better than the Olympics, featuring people from many different countries. I always hope that the gathering of people from all corners of the globe can lead to better understanding between everyone.

I think that overall, the Olympics inspires us to be the best in what we do everyday, whether that be sports or not, and that is worth supporting.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A Review of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a book by Becky Albertelli. A movie adaptation, Love, Simon, is planned for this year. Simon Spier is a closeted gay guy, but he has been emailing Blue, a mysterious guy from school. However, when Martin Addison gets ahold of the emails, he blackmails Simon into setting him up with one of Simon's friends. Simon's life is about to go from complicated to worse.

It took me a little while to get fully invested into this story, but by the end of it I was grinning at everything. If you don't, you have no heart. God, it was just... so cute.

Simon is fine. He's nice, if a little clueless, and has a great family support. I did wish Simon wouldn't push Blue into meeting in person so much. Blue had stated that he wasn't ready for that yet. But he's a teenager, and he's not flawless. Abby and Nick are good best friends, and Abby especially shines. It's easy to see why she'd be the first person Simon would tell. I didn't overly like how snippy she got when she found out about Martin, but she does quickly sort out her feelings. Leah is a little more prickly. She hates Abby (because Abby gets on well with both her crush and her best friend) and has a tendency to get angry at her friends over very slight things. However, it is clear that she is concealing a lot of anxiety issues, and I would be interested to read Leah on the Offbeat just to see things from her POV. Martin belongs in a dumpster full of the worst characters in all of literature, alongside Dolores Umbridge.

So, when did people figure out who Blue was? Spoiler: I was pretty sure I knew it was Bram throughout the book, became certain on page 194, than started doubting myself because I didn't know of any Presidents with the first name Bram. /spoiler

This may be the first USYA book I've read where teenagers realistically drink. Simon's parents reaction seemed way over-the-top to me, but that's a cultural difference. In the UK, we can drink at 18, and many parents are okay with teenagers drinking at 16/17. It's sort of a 'you're going to do it anyway, so I'd rather know where you are and what you're up to' thing. So you see, USYA treating alcohol as this 'forbidden subject' has always seemed really odd to me.

One of the best things fiction can do is teach you that your feelings are valid. When you identify with a character going through something similar,  Which is even a mantra that Simon preaches, learnt from his psychologist Mom. I'm hoping more teenagers can take away from this that they are entitled to their emotions.

If there's one place I think Albertelli can improve, it's in the description of technology. She calls a Tumblr blog 'The Tumblr' and I don't even think Tumblr is as popular now. I think Facebook would be most logical for a school secrets page. And school computers, I don't know about the US, but over here, if you've logged out of your school account, any internet site is cleared with it. Most teenagers would be hyper-conscious of logging out of an account with that amount of sensitive material on it.

I'd recommend it as one of those books that should be available in all high and secondary schools. It might help teenagers to think about how their actions may effect others, and may help people who are struggling with the idea of coming out.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A Review of My Name is Victoria

My Name is Victoria is a book by Lucy Worsley, a well-known historian in the UK. Miss V Conroy is the daughter of John Conroy, comptroller to the mother of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Victoria. When John Conroy brings her to Kensington Palace with the idea of making her a playmate for the young princess, things appear to go well, at first. But this has immersed Miss V Conroy in a world of secrets and lies that she could never have imagined.

Historical fiction is my jam, okay? I'm loving these YA books coming out based on historical events. Maybe it will help encourage an interest in history in teens. I wish they'd been around when I was a teen - maybe I would have discovered my interest in it sooner. Historical fiction makes historical events more real and alive in ways you don't get out of a sometimes-dry history textbook. However, I do need to say that as with all historical fiction, historical accuracy is always in question, and this definitely plays into alternate history, too.

This is also a historical fiction with a huge emphasis on female friendships. Miss V and Victoria feel like truly good friends at some points, and have a royalty-and-attendant relationship at other times. It's nice to see in historical fiction, where the narrative normally swings towards romance. And I do love books with a strong focus on friendship.

The Princess Victoria feels like a fully realised, living character, rather than a stereotyped royal. She's a product of her upbringing and a realistic child. I knew of John Conroy from various period dramas about the early life of Queen Victoria, so his true nature wasn't a huge surprise to me. Miss V, though... for the first person POV character, she hasn't got much life. She has little-to-no agency, most big events in her life being decided for her by others. She's only too happy to be dressed down next to Victoria, to show the princess off in her best light. It actually makes a change to have historical fiction narrated by someone who is happy to do her duty, rather than one who is rebellious, with a firmly 21st century outlook on things. But she is definitely not the most memorable character in the novel.

Spoiler: One of the problems with historical fiction, especially that dealing with well-known people, is that it's unlikely to have a real plot twist. However, this one does, putting it firmly into alternate history. And I'm... not sure if it worked. The problem is that Queen Victoria is such an iconic figure that the idea of her being someone different is hard to swallow. And by many accounts, Victoria and Albert were a couple who were actually in love, even if they sometimes fought like all married couples do. So his romance here with Miss V seems unlikely at best. Although I did enjoy them when they were together on page, it never happened in real life, and that felt off. /spoiler

Recommended for teens (and above, but it will work for younger teens and tweens, too) who are studying the Victorians.