Monday, 17 December 2018

The Smashing & Dashing 2018 Book Tag by Paper Fury

Why do I always do things like this to myself. I have to look back over all the books I've read this year and decide on my answers to these questions? Like that's 142 books. I mean obviously I don't have to, I could just leave it, but I'm not going to. Also it makes me realise how much I've actually forgotten about books I read at the beginning of the year.

1. Most Relatable Character
I reread Geekerella this year and I just can't get over how well-done the geek aspect of this book was? Like I can see Starfield as a series I am into. Many of the geek parts I recognise as conversations I have with my friends. I loved how Elle used Starfield sometimes as a way to escape from her life, which is similar to why I have many of my geeky interests.
2. Most Pure Animal Companion
Why does it feel like I didn't read enough with animals in it. In 2019, let's give all YA protagonists a pet. I reread The Hate U Give this year and Brickz is the cutest pitbull softy ever, so I'm counting him.
3. Fiercest Fighter
I read Reflection, which is a Disney movie based Mulan retelling, and she keeps all her awesome traits, but she develops them even further battling her way through the literal underworld!
4. Am Surprised That I Loved You??
Oh my word The DUFF. I thought the book would be on the shallower side of YA, and I watched the movie which did nothing to disprove this. But the book was awesome and it was such good friendships, and a message on how everyone can feel like the DUFF at times and it addressed girl-hate and it looked at the bad things about sex without making the book sex-negative and I don't know how I'm going to convince more people to read this book.
5. Best Sassmaster
Willowdean from Puddin' (and in her novel Dumplin' which I didn't reread this year but I did watch the movie so I'm including it) sassy Willowdean is best Willowdean.
6. Best Antihero
I'm giving this to Adina from You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (is she an antiheroic archtype?) She's not always nice, or even well-intentioned, but seeing things from her POV really does help to understand her thinking.
7. The Best Friends Of All
I'm going for Simon's crew from Simon vs. and Leah on the Offbeat, who will stick together through thick and thin.
8. Best Villain To HATE
The Faceless Man/Martin Chorley from Rivers of London. If you want a villain who you can read about people having epic WIZARD duels with and not feel bad for the villain at all, this is the series for that.
9. Award For Best vs Worst YA Parents
Worst: the Mom from Starfish. She was abusive towards her daughter, and it was in the very way that gets underneath the skin over time.
Best: Desi's Dad from I Believe in a Thing Called Love. They have a great relationship, and bond even more over K-dramas. Desi tries not to worry her Dad, and her Dad will listen to her.
10. Ship Of All Ships In 2018
I don't ship like I did in my teens, but my favourite bookish couple from this year would be LeahXAbby!
11. Most Precious Must Be Protected
Tovah my word Tovah needs to be protected from her sister's bad decisions.
12. Honestly Surprised You’re Still Alive
Amani and literally everyone from the Rebel of the Sands series. I always wonder how YA groups of friends can wade into the middle of a huge war with little or no training and with the most dangerous people hell-bent on killing them and come out mostly alive.
13. Award For Making The Worst Decisions
Well, isn't a hallmark of YA characters that they make bad decisions? But Reagan from Open Road Summer is basically a whole bundle of bad decisions.
14. Most In Need Of A Nap
15. Want To Read More About You
Hmm hmm can I have a Piglettes spin-off that makes Astrid the main character? She seemed more level-headed that Mireille and I'd love to hear more about her video games.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Subs vs. Dubs (is a matter of personal opinion)

Subs (short for subtitles) and dubs are two of the main ways that foreign media are produced for different markets. Foreign dubbing is when a company will get voice actors to rerecord lines in a different language. Subs generally keep the original dialogue and place titles under the screen. One industry where this particularly comes to the forefront is anime, that is, animated films and TV shows from Japan.

People often tend to have very strong feelings on which ones they prefer, to the point of insulting people who prefer the other method. I feel that this is not only counterproductive, but can have some ableist undertones.

Personally, I prefer TV shows and movies which are dubbed into English. The reason for this is because I find it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. On my laptop, I can often be looking at a different tab while listening to Netflix. Sometimes in my living room, I'll wander into the kitchen and start looking for food. I normally like to keep the show running while I do this, so I am often still listening to it if I'm not exactly watching. Even sitting still, if I'm particularly tired, I may close my eyes and just listen to the dialogue, something which is obviously harder without an English dub. I have also heard from someone with dyslexia, who couldn't always read subtitles as quickly as they were placed on screen.

However, subtitles are the only way for some people to pick up the dialogue, for example, those who are deaf or hard of hearing. In this day and age, there should be no reason for a sub option not to be included in recorded media. There is also an argument for those learning a new language, who may appreciate having their first language there to guide them.

There are, of course, exceptions. I have watched and enjoyed films with subtitles. I have secondary school level German knowledge, and watched Goodbye, Lenin with subtitles. However, they are the exceptions that prove the rule, as it is normally during them that I realised my mind tended to wander easily while watching films.

All this said, at the end of the day, it is all a matter of personal opinion. A perfect world would have all media available with subs and dubs in all languages, so that people can choose, but sometimes that's not feasible with media storage space and fiscal cost. My conclusion, however, is that we should stop lauding one method over the other and slating people who prefer a different approach.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

A Review of Piglettes

Piglettes is a book by Clementine Beauvais, translated by Clementine Beauvais. Mireille, Astrid and Hakima have been voted the ugliest girls in school on a Facebook page. The girls make friends, and find themselves cycling around the French countryside on a trip to Paris.

I think overall, this reads a little younger than some YA, but I wouldn't recommend it to a younger set because of some of the topics covered. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either.

Translated YA needs to have a day. I want more books where I read about countries written by someone from that country that I can read in English. My poorly remembered school French did help me with pronunciation of some of the words here, but I wouldn't be able to read the whole book. I also feel like sometimes with translations, some of the nuance gets lost, but this one was translated by Beauvais herself.

Mireille is flawed, and it's fantastic to see flawed main characters in YA. She's not always nice. She's funny, but she sometimes doesn't think through what she's going to say. She's also so flippant that it's hard to know when she is joking. Having to deal with the comments she gets seems to have given her a thick skin and a laughing personality. I'd say immature, but thinking of how I was at 15... I don't think she's that far off.

I also loved Astrid, who likes video games! I can count on one hand the amount of YA I've read with a major female character who plays video games. Beauvais uses fictional examples of games, but they are ones I could see working as real games. Airport Manager reminded me of a game I used to have, called Airline Tycoon, and I could see Kitchen Rush as a game on Steam - she also discusses a farming game, and those have always been popular and not just through Facebook.

Hakima was definitely interesting. She's younger than a lot of main characters in YA, but the age when some people start reading YA is about 12. It would be good, at that age, to read about a character going through the same problems you are having, such as first period. I got mine on a school trip to France, so I know all about the bad timing of first periods. And shout-out to this book for discussing periods, too.

The whole idea of the contest left a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, I feel like it was probably meant to, but it also wasn't dealt with? The school proved completely useless at doing anything about it. The best you can do is lecture the student, and not suspend him? I'm sorry, and even if it takes place on the internet, it involves the school. Tell his parents, who I'm sure didn't raise their son to act like this. The only person who seems against it is Mireille's mother - even a media article took both sides of the story. Why not get the students to report it, en masse to Facebook? I'm sure some would join in a protest, or even if it was just Mireille, Astrid and Hakima, it must violate terms of service. (right? right?)

Also, I can see the logic behind their parents allowing them to cycle to Paris. They were accompanied by Hakima's brother Kadar, who is 26 and a war hero. It's also a good experience for them, with already planned stops along the way. My parents let me take train trips alone at 16, and some children are sailing across the world at that age.

So I didn't like Mireille referring to a war-torn Middle Eastern nation as 'Problemistan' - it groups all the countries out there, with their own unique cultures and histories, under one stroke. They are all different, and not all of them have problems of the type she was referring to. There are also a few comments about lesbians that were incorrect, but they do make sense coming from 15-year olds with a limited view of the world.

While 15 to 26 isn't an age difference in a romance I would normally like to read about, here I think it works. The major reason for that is because it isn't really a romance - Mireille's feelings towards Kadar aren't anything more than a schoolgirl crush. It also develops into a sibling-ish relationship, and one thing I feel YA needs more of is male/female friendships.

It's far more food-focused than I expected, although I don't know why I didn't expect that from a book set in France! Mireille's grandparents run a two Michelin starred restaurant, and they sell sausages on the trip. There's also descriptions of French pastries and cheeses, and my mouth was watering. Read with snacks, is all I can say.

In conclusion - yay for translations and food, boo to ugliness contests. Would recommend to fans of France and especially food. Definitely a summer read, being set in summer and involving a trip.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

How Choice-based Video Games Helped Me Politically and as a Person

I like my video games to have stories. It doesn't have to be a big story built into the game itself - I can craft an epic story around my Pokémon games, and the plot has barely changed from the eight badges, Elite Four, champion route. However, I especially love it when games give me the chance to make choices for myself.

 - Spoiler warning, particularly for the plot of the Mass Effect trilogy

Mass Effect. Dragon Age. Countless VN's. Fallout. Skyrim. All games with some element of dialogue choices to them. I can influence a part of the story. My favourite thing is being able to define my character's personality - I tend to make good characters who nonetheless snark at party members and NPCs. If the game gives me a personal reason to dislike someone, then I like to play that up - picking revenge-focused options when available. On the whole, though, my characters are good, ones who would try anything to broker peace between two tribes rather than let either side die. They ask questions before shooting - but still shoot if necessary.

In Mass Effect 3, there are large parts of the game where you can help refugees on the Citadel. Whether that is by talking to them, reuniting families, or getting supplies, it feels good. It wasn't hard to help them - taking a small detour to pick something up and take it back. In real life, I understand this might be harder - the game doesn't account for time spent travelling and fuel costs on the Normandy, for instance. But it felt good to be helping people.

Dragon Age 3 has a different mechanic that is worth mentioning - the War Table. On it, you would receive events, but instead of going yourself to sort it out, you would delegate some of your forces to go in your place. Your three advisers would discuss whether to do it by military force, espionage or diplomacy. Pick well, because you could make the wrong choice. And it showed the direct result of your actions, not just on the people you helped, but on the people imvolved. I've never felt worse than when I lost considerable numbers of my army when I could have picked the diplomatic option.

Also in Mass Effect, you encounter a political party wanting your endorsement, whose entire platform is "Earth First." You can choose to endorse them or not, and if you don't, you manage to counteract every one of their points. If you have the party member who was most, shall we say, sceptical about including aliens on a military ship, she will also stand up against them.

After a few playthroughs in Mass Effect when I punched the reporter Khalisah Al-Jilani, it stopped feeling so satisfying. If you refute her points calmly, you come off better and endear yourself to the general public. Not to mention the implications of a trained military soldier punching a member of the public not feeling right to me.

Throughout Mass Effect (I love this game and therefore have a lot of thoughts about it) there are decisions that I struggle with, to this day. There is one woman apprehensive about giving her unborn baby gene therapy to cure the gene that lead to his father's early death, as there are possible complications. I can never decide if it's a woman's right to choose in this case, or if she comes off similar to anti-vaccination movements nowadays, since a lot of her information comes from extranet articles. However, you don't make the choice for her, just advise her one way or another.

In Mass Effect 2 this time, you are forced to work for Cerberus, an explicitly human supremacist organisation. I hated everything about this. It made no sense for my Shepard to turn around and go right back to the Alliance. I did this, as soon as I got to the Citadel. I sort of play it like my Shepard is their gathering intel on Cerberus for the Alliance, but I believe that everyone who calls you out for working with them is in the right. I wouldn't be happy if I found out someone I knew was working for a terrorist organisation.

And there's the decision at the end of Mass Effect - do you save three of the most important politicians in the galaxy at the cost of many others, or let them die? The ones who die go down as heroes, but that's little consolation to the families devastated by it. Are three lives really worth that many others? I tend to know ahead of time what choices I will make for the story I am telling on that playthrough, so I don't struggle with the choice exactly, but I find it hard to press the button. However, the two things I'll never do is support an all-human council or place Udina on it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

London Themed London Trip 17/11/18 - St. Paul's, London Transport Museum and Rivers of London Author Event

Ben Aaronovitch, author of Rivers of London, is doing a UK tour as of the time of writing. I was excited when he first announced he was coming to Southampton. But as it turns out, the Southampton one was lunchtime on a Wednesday, when I would be working. So I thought to myself, why don't I go to the London one instead? The London one was also a talk and signing, rather than just a signing. And where better to hear about the Rivers of London series than in London itself?

He did two signings in London on this day - one at Forbidden Planet and one in Foyles, and I went to the later event in Foyles. I thought, why not make it a full London themed day. So I also looked around the cathedral of St. Paul's and the London Transport Museum.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A Review of A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a book by Tahereh Mafi, the author of the Shatter Me series. Shirin is a Muslim-American teenager who has moved between several schools. It is a year after 9/11, and Shirin has become the target of a lot of racism and bigotry. She tends not to make friends at her new schools, knowing she won't be there long, but her brother starts up a breakdancing crew. She enjoys practising and learning the steps. There's also a boy called Ocean James, who seems to want to get to know Shirin. But Shirin has spent so long shutting people out, can she learn to let someone in?

This book is so important.

When I was in secondary school, 9/11 was still fresh in everyone's minds. It had happened in my last years of primary, and I still remember seeing the images on the news. But for teenagers now, 9/11 is history. They won't be able to remember it, and most weren't even alive for it. They've seen the images but only from when they are replayed. But there is one group to whom it will never be just history. Muslims still feel the effects of the attacks, every day. Disclaimer - my perspective here is white, British with a Christian upbringing (although I am now atheist) so my perspective will be obviously different than that of a person who follows the Muslim religion.

And despite the serious subject, it also manages to be a fun read. Shirin's personality is awesome, taking no shit from anyone and staying sassy. Her responses are humorous when they're not serious. The part where she points out to a teacher that he shouldn't be expecting her to teach him because that's not her job is gold. And sure, use your students to educate each other in interesting ways, but make sure none of them are placed into an uncomfortable situation with it.

She's also got a few hobbies, which I liked. Often, I find YA characters have one hobby - likely related to their ambition. But Shirin likes breakdancing, reading, music and fashion. She makes her own clothes but looks at couture for inspiration. She has dislikes, such as sport. She's more than a character, she's a fully rounded person and not solely defined by her religion.

While Shirin is not defined by her religion, it is important to her. I loved hearing her reasons behind wearing the hijab. Mafi educates the reader on Muslim traditions through Shirin, who talks about what her faith means to her. Religion is personal, and two people won't practice the same faith in the exact same way. Shirin can give us her opinion, but she cannot speak for all Muslims. Persian culture is also discussed - you might find yourself hungry for Persian food once you finish reading!

Spoiler: I kind of like it in YA books when things don't work out. How often, IRL, do teenagers actually stay together? And I think that people need to read about going through a break-up as much as they need to read about relationships.

Also, the early 2000's were my teenage years. The technology described here gave me real nostalgia. Nokia brick phone and iPod rather than a combined iPhone. AIM/MSN chat and LiveJournal are mentioned. Old dial-up internet and the infancy of text messaging, back when you had to count your texts and minutes so you didn't go over. I still think it was a strange time to grow up, on the cusp of the constantly changing technology but not quite there yet. The music was the music of my youth, too.

I did find the writing style a little choppy, and the romance a little bland. Ocean was nice, more than a stereotypical jock, but an unlikely relationship with a high school sports star is one that has been seen many times before. However, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story.

Recommended for people who were teenagers in the early/mid 2000's!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Review of The Kissing Booth

The Kissing Booth is a book by Beth Reekles. Rochelle "Elle" Evans is best friends with Lee Flynn. They were born on the same day, and their Moms were best friends, too. His older brother, Noah, is the hottest guy in the school. Elle has a huge crush on him, as does most of the school, but he's way out of her league. When she and Lee decide to run a kissing booth at the school carnival, she's surprised when her first kiss is with Noah. They begin a secret relationship, hiding it from everyone, especially Lee.

Elle manages to fall into a huge pitfall of YA protagonists in these sort of books by not having any sort of personality outside of the guys. The movie did her a huge favour by giving her a love of playing football (soccer) and an interest in dancing. However, I liked that she's different for YA protagonists, which often focus on quiet, shy girls. She's no stranger to going to parties and having a bit to drink.

I would really like to see more types of friendship displayed in YA fiction, and this book does do that. It focuses on the friendship between Elle and Lee, almost as much as Elle's relationship with his older brother. From the Netflix movie, I thought they might get them together. I enjoyed the way they could mess around paint-fighting with each other, for example. But the book stays well away from making it into a love triangle, and I think that's a huge benefit. Teens need to see (and read about) boys and girls being good friends, and that girls can have friendships with boys that are as close as friendships with a group of girls. The friendship parts between Elle and Lee were some of my favourite parts of the book.

But for a book like this to be truly enjoyable, you have to be invested in the romance, and I just wasn't. Noah is a controlling jerk, to the point where I was hoping it would end with Elle realising she deserves better. He's been warning guys not to date Elle since even before the story starts, and seems to think he can tell her what to wear. To give you an idea, he reminds me of Christian Grey. This is partly why I'd been hoping that Elle would get together with Lee, instead, someone who she could have a laugh about with.

I am in awe of anyone who gets published as a teenager. Having the determination and discipline at that age to do something I still struggle to do at 26 is huge. This doesn't mean the book is immune from criticism because of her age, however. I wouldn't like to feel like people took it easy on me as a teenager, either. It's a Wattpad story, and it reads like a Wattpad story. Cliches abound, and it could have done with extra editing, too. I saw a few grammar mistakes that should have been caught, and it could do with being quite a lot shorter. Almost 450 pages for this kind of story is way too long. It's also obvious that it was written by a British author but set in America. Terms such as jumpers are used. At one point, Elle gets salted popcorn from a movie theatre, but none of the American movie theatres I've been to do salted popcorn - it's always buttery. And at one point, she says "The night air was cool compared to the heat inside" but in California in spring, that isn't likely. Outside would still be warm, and inside would have all air conditioners on max. Going outside is a nice way to warm up.

So my biggest criticism about this series is that it reads similarly to The Summer I Turned Pretty series. And published after, too, hmm. Moms who are very close best friends from college, one family consisting of two boys. Noah's personality even reminded me a lot of Conrad's.

Oh, and what Starbucks has waiters, anyway?

Netflix has done super things with this material, though, and the movie is worth a watch for sheer escapism on a rainy day. It manages the good balance between condensing the material and adding to it. It's lighthearted fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. To be honest, I recommend the movie over the book. It is sheer entertainment, but there's nothing wrong with things existing for the sole purpose of making people happy.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

A Review of 13 Minutes

13 Minutes is a book by Sarah Pinborough. Natasha Howland winds up in a freezing cold river in mysterious circumstances. While underwater, she was dead for thirteen minutes, making a recovery described as miraculous. With suspicions falling on her friends Jenny Cole and Hayley Gallagher, it's up to her ex-best friend, Becca Crisp, to get to the truth.

So I actually didn't know this was UKYA when I picked it up! It's always nice when I can understand terminology easier and relate things to my own experience. I think the plotline and the "Mean Girls for an Instagram age" tagline conditioned me to expect a US story. I remember similar experiences with popular girls in my own school, so it isn't just a US phenomenon. The popular girls in the story even have a group name, similar to the Plastics. They're the Barbies.

Even though the story revolves around Natasha, the main character isn't Natasha, it is Becca. This is interesting as Becca's chapters are in third-person, and Natasha's are in first. It actually makes the way that Natasha is the centre of the book, and the only thing the characters are talking about, stand out. Everything is about Natasha. Spoiler: it also makes the books big twist a little harder to swallow. She has no reason to lie in her narration!

Natasha is likely asexual - she says she doesn't like the thought of it and pretends to go further than she actually has. But this line about it did truly annoy me: "It leaves me cold. Maybe I belong in the river."

Becca used to be fat, and there's an awful lot of comments about that, but there's also a very heavy focus given to how much other characters weigh, and the idea of dieting, which is almost unhealthy coming from a YA book.

There is an awful lot of girl-hate. The plot might make this seem obvious, but some writers to subvert some of the standard cliches about this. Becca herself is hateful towards the Barbies and Natasha's internal narration is also mean towards them, too. Becca also complains about the girl who is apparently her best friend, Hannah, who is described as "that boring girl from school who's name no-one would remember in five years time."

Being a UKYA book, it does do that UKYA thing of showing teenagers doing authentic teenage things - they smoke, have sex, drink and try drugs. But I'd also just once to have a book focus on the kind of teenager I was. I didn't drink until I was 17, and even then minimally, I didn't have sex until I was in my twenties.

I'm also not sure if the dialogue is authentically teenage or not. To give an example, at one point Natasha writes in her diary that "How many other people have their death reported in inverted commas?" Would a teenager say 'inverted commas' or would they use the term speech marks? Well, I guess it would depend on the teenager, but an adult writer has a significantly higher chance of knowing the correct term for punctuation.

Spoiler: Saying this book is like Gone Girl is probably going to be a huge giveaway for people familiar with that book. A lying, sociopathic woman, a falsified diary and an unreliable narrator? However, there is a difference between unreliable and intentionally misleading, and I think this book is way too far into it. It makes no sense for Natasha to still be lying in her first-person narration, and even the blurb makes it seem like Natasha doesn't know as much as she does.

I would recommend this for other fans of page-turning thrillers, but please bear in mind some of the problematic content. I hate linking a book to other books, but it does remind me of a British YA Gone Girl.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

A Review of The Exact Opposite of Okay

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a book by Laura Steven. Izzy O'Neill has been raised by her grandmother Betty since losing both her parents in a car crash. They get by with Betty's income from her job in a diner. Izzy wants to write humourous scripts for TV, but she feels her dream may not come true because of their lack of money. However, when an account of two sexual encounters she had at a party goes viral, Izzy finds herself the centre of much unwanted attention.

Basically every character who wasn't awful was a delight. Betty is the Grandmother I'd always wanted. Supportive teachers also amaze me. I loved that Izzy was given the $50 with no expectation to succeed or pay it back, just because it would be a great experience for her to try, even if she didn't win. And her romance was adorable in how well it fitted her. It's not cute in the general sense, but they do get on well. It was shallow, but then again, it's not the main focus of the book. If it was necessary to have a romance is another topic, but here I think it works. He also does show that not every male in this book is awful, so I would say that the romance was a necessary inclusion. There are also characters with shades of grey, such as Zack. It must be awful having most conversations you have bring up your father in some way, and I would have actually liked to see more of him as a reasonable human being. Ajita is basically the best best friend you could want in Izzy's circumstances, too.

Spoiler: I didn't want to spend any review time talking about Daniel, but I guess I would have to bring him up somewhere. Boy, does he remind me of some guys I've dealt with. What. An. Arsehole. [/spoiler]

What Izzy goes through is not dissimilar to similar events that have happened to real people. I'm thinking predominantly of leaking of celebrity nudes and revenge porn, but some people may know other examples. I was going to say "her life shouldn't be ruined because of a mistake" but it wasn't even a mistake, because it literally shouldn't have happened to her in the first place. Even her sending nudes was well within the bounds of acceptability. Izzy's eighteen*, making this an adult deciding to do something just for the hell of it. If you think it was wrong, I suggest rereading this book, and ask yourself why.

Izzy does make a serious mistake at one point, when she tells that Ajita is gay. This wasn't Izzy's thing to tell people - Ajita gets to decide who knows and when and how to tell them. However, much of the audience of this book will likely be teenagers. Some of them may not be aware of the consequences of giving away someone's sexuality and why you shouldn't do it. I'm not saying that makes Izzy's actions in the book okay, but it does mean people may learn something. Izzy is only a teenager, herself, and therefore will make mistakes. It's only natural. And no, being a full adult in the eyes of the law and still being a teenager prone to errors in judgement can coexist. Even at eighteen, you won't know everything, and you can still develop as a person as an adult.

I will say that some of the syntax reads more British than American. It can be jarring for those who are not used to it. Expect it before going in, remember that it is written by a British writer, and bear in mind that there are a lot of books set in Britain where Americanisms have crept in, too. Those sort of books can throw me right out of the story when I read them. If I'm honest, it still threw me off in this one, too, but I'll give it a pass.

Edit:  Since I didn't state this anywhere, the reason British terms sound weird in this book is because it is set in America, but written by a UK author.

* If you are under eighteen, however, please don't send nudes, ever, because distribution and possession of them comes under child pornography laws. Make sure whatever you do is safe and legal. I am disappointed that this point was never brought up, because this book could have been a good way to educate the target audience on best practice for sending nudes. In addition to "don't do it if you're underage" there's also "don't show any identifying features" and "only share them with people you trust." As well as if they ever do get leaked, it is absolutely, 100% not your fault.

I would recommend this book to anyone growing up and trying to make sense of how women are treated in society.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A Review of Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat is a book by Becky Albertalli, and is a companion novel of sorts to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah Burke and her friends are entering senior year. With college applications and prom fast approaching, she's worried about her friendship group, which appears to be fracturing. However, she starts to realise she has more feeling for one in her group than she wanted to have.

Under a cut because I doubt I can talk about this book without spoiling it. It's hard to even write a summary without spoiling.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

A Review of Theatrical

Theatrical is a book by Maggie Harcourt. Hope Parker has loved the world of theatre ever since getting glimpses of her mother's glamorous career as a costume designer. Getting a student placement at the Earl's Theatre is a dream come true, for the girl who wants to work in stage management. The opening night of a huge production is coming up, but there's also a budding romance with a student actor for her to worry about. But, as always, the show must go on.

At the end of the book, I was just confused, because I couldn't quite work out what hadn't worked. On paper, it should have been good for me. I love theatre, and I love reading about passionate characters. But something in this one was just slightly off. I always do like to start with the good, and I have a few positive things to say about it. The theatre stuff was good!

I did a bit of amateur dramatics acting as a teen, and the descriptions of the excitement and tension of backstage were spot on! I felt like I was there with Hope, costuming, counting props and cuing lights. I also really did connect with her love of theatre, and they're right up there with some of the most magical places in the world, to me.

Theatrical does capture a feeling I've felt quite a lot in my adult life. When you're new at a job, and everyone else seems to know what they're doing, and you're expected to know even though it's your first day, and people just roll their eyes when you ask where something is. When you know that if you ask for help with something, you'll be treated like you're stupid, but if you go ahead and do it, you'll make a mistake. When you feel like you just can't do anything right.

We are told that Hope is experienced and is determined to prove herself, but she comes across as mostly irresponsible and unprofessional. She's late quite often and misses cues because she's too busy daydreaming about her love interest. A few mistakes would be understandable - she's a teenager, and she's still learning. But things like being late aren't something I expect from someone who is trying to prove she can make it without her mother's help.

The romance was bland as vanilla. I'm sorry, but it was. I would have preferred her with George, because we do need more Asian love interests in YA and her family background provided an interesting parallel with his passion. I also liked seeing a boy with more feminine interests who wasn't gay. I know we need more LGBT characters, but I also feel like we need more straight characters (especially men) with interests associated with other genders.

Also, why was a girl who wants to work in theatre doing chemistry and maths as an A-Level? Maths I can possibly see, since it may come in handy for calculating things, but there is no earthly reason to do chemistry if it doesn't directly relate to what you want to do at University. It is that hard, and I know from experience, since I did it. Even if we take out Drama (Hope's not into the acting side so much) and Textiles (too much like her mother's line of work) surely English, Art and Graphic Design would have made more sense? Or a foreign language or a humanities subject? The A-levels a character takes should be somewhat linked to their personality. For the confused, most places only let you take a maximum of five, and most people will only do three or four. Also, taking any time out of school during your A-levels so close to exams seems to be not only foolish but also something most schools wouldn't let you do.

I would recommend this one for theatre lovers, especially those who have does any sort of community theatre work.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Review of Puddin'

Puddin' is a novel by Julie Murphy, and is a sort of companion book/second novel to Dumplin'. Millie Michelchuk is sick of being held back because of her weight. This year, instead of going to fat camp, she's going to apply for broadcast journalism school. Cassie Reyes, on the school dance team, is upset when their sponsorship by a local small gym is dropped. After vandalising the gym, she winds up working their to pay back her damages, spending more time about Millie during her time there.

I loved it! I've been hit-or-miss with Julie Murphy so far. I loved Dumplin', wasn't overjoyed by Side Effects May Vary and am still not sure what to think about Ramona Blue. The only thing I was disappointed about is that there wasn't a romance between the two girls.

But I think their two personalities were what made the book. They're both very different people. Girls can be bitchy, they can be nice, they can be complex. I'll say it - I feel that the YA genre has been a goldmine of women as well-rounded characters with interesting personalities lately. Two very different girls can become friends. Add to this the supporting cast, again mostly female, and you've got a novel that's very character driven, so it's a good thing that it's a very strong cast of them.

I loved Millie! She's a sweetheart. You know how I often say that my favourite YA protagonists are those with some sort of dream or goal? She wants to be a news anchor, and my word is she working to make that happen. There's no reason why you should have to wait until you are an adult to start studying what you are interested in. The fact she's got an extra barrier with her size is not going to stop her.

Cassie may take someone longer to warm to. I had a sense of where the character was going, so I was waiting to see with her. She's a masterclass in how to write a mean girl without it turning into girl-hate. Her POV means we get her reasons, and her character development shows through in the end.

I admit I wasn't sold on the idea of a sleepover between the girls from Dumplin' at first, because I found it wasn't the strongest chapter, but the second one where Millie brings Cassie is rife with drama. These girls are very different, and adding one more member upset their fragile balance. Amanda has a discussion on asexuality with the others, which I loved, plus she's also disabled. I would like a third book in this series centring on her, actually. Hannah comes across as only being there because she has to be, but deep down I think she really does care. Willowdean and El are each others best friends, so if their group fell apart, they'd be okay if they had each other. Millie is the one who cares the most about their group.

Another thing I really like about this book is the Texas setting! I've been out to Texas several times to visit friends, and I love (most things about) the state! Especially the food, and the description of a Texas BBQ place made my mouth water.

Recommended for those who like their cute contemporaries with complex characters.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Review of The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere is a book by Jandy Nelson, who also wrote I'll Give You The Sun. Lennie Walker is a seventeen year old clarinettist and classic literature reader who always felt in the shadow of her older sister, Bailey. With her sister's recent sudden death, Lennie is trying to sort her life back together. With the arrival of new kid Joe Fontaine, Lennie starts crushing but feels guilty for enjoying something so soon after her sister's death. But she is also starting to connect to Bailey's boyfriend, Toby Shaw, in a way she didn't expect.

It is rare that I finish a book and I don't know what to think. I felt the same way about I'll Give You The Sun, too. Later, I started to feel like it wasn't that I didn't know what to thing, just a distinct feeling of meh. I know they are well-liked books, but I couldn't get into them.

Lennie is a realistic teenager, perhaps more messed up than most of them with her sister's death, but she's not a pleasant one. I think that when you kiss your dead sister's boyfriend in front of the guy you were sort-of dating, you kind of forfeit your rights to feel jealous that he's with another girl? You aren't entitled to another chance in that case. I also didn't get her obsession with a Wuthering Heights style romance, because I thought the point of that book was that their relationship was unhealthy.

Plus points for her ambitions with clarinet, an unusual instrument to see in YA, and for seeing her develop her goals around it. Plus I did enjoy her poetry, even if the way she distributes it borders on littering and vandalism at times. They're more collections of thoughts and conversations, some one word a line style poems. But that's okay because poetry, like anything else, can adapt and change to the modern world. We don't have to write the same kind of poetry as those who came before, but we still can if we want to.

The grief was nicely done, as well. There's no one way to grieve. There's no set time limit on how soon you can go back to feeling happy, and there's no point where you have to stop feeling sad about it, either. Lennie doesn't quite get this, at her age and going through it once. Grief makes Lennie selfish - when she was going on about how Toby was the only one to understand, I wanted to point out to her that she still had her Gram. Others will react to it differently. Some of the quotes were exact descriptions of how I was feeling back in August/September.

Then there's Sarah, who as far as I can tell, is a feminist to get guys? She wasn't well explained, despite being Lennie's best friend. Lennie shuts her out from grief, and Sarah doesn't try to connect? I understand that sometimes you need to give them time, but most would understand that friendships if they are strong enough can always be picked up where they left off. Sarah didn't reach out to ask Lennie if she was okay, but seemed more interested in getting back a friend on her terms. She's mad at Lennie at one point because Lennie went quiet for a while, this being shortly after Lennie's older sister died. So what I'm saying is that I'm not buying that Sarah was giving Lennie space or trying to help her process things. Lennie's Gram was my favourite character, but I found it odd that everyone else calls her Gram, too. I really wish I could write more about Bailey here, but we only really see her through Lennie's eyes, as the idealised older sister.

The two boys annoyed me. A skater boy and a music genius. If that's not cliche enough, let's have him be from France, too. Toby is literally her dead sister's boyfriend, and Joe was a little lacking in personality. I honestly think the book would have been stronger without the love triangle, allowing more time for Joe to develop. Plus both seem to come round the house at all hours, coincidentally often running into each other.

One other character I'd like to discuss is Rachel. She's given quite a bit of girl-hate from Lennie, because... she got first chair clarinet after Lennie flunked the audition, she's pretty, made a few unkind comments and starts dating Joe after Lennie kissed Toby in front of him. She's not the nicest character, but not quite bad enough to make me empathise with Lennie's internal thoughts about her,

The teenspeak is cringe-worthy, too. Lennie uses the term WTF-asaurus (seriously, WTF?) and I would have stabbed my eyeballs out if I'd read the word Joelirious one more time.

One more minor quibble: only children don't tend to hate being only children. It's just a general fact of their existence. You don't miss what you never had. In the same way as people with siblings can't imagine life without them, it's hard for us to imagine how our life would be different without them. Sure, some of us might have wished for a sibling when we were younger, but I bet most of us grew out of that phase. We're not lesser people, nor do we automatically hate our existence, because we don't have siblings.

I might recommend this book to people who would like to learn more about grief.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Review of Open Road Summer

Open Road Summer was Emery Lord's first novel. Reagan O'Neill, recovering bad girl, is joining her friend Delilah Montgomery on tour. The world knows her as Lilah Montgomery, country music star, but to everyone who knows her, she's Dee. This tour could be the thing to fix both girls broken hearts. When Matt Finch is brought in to open her show and pose as Dee's fictional boyfriend, it's Reagan who ends up getting closer to him.

Lord is one of my favourite authors, but the thing I find interesting is that her growth as a writer is obvious over her books, with her most recent books being better to me than her first two.

Lord does three things incredibly well - friendship, passions and grief, and all three are at play here. I really felt Dee's passion for her music and her career and Reagan's passion for photography. This was an interesting mix, as it was photographers that caused much of Dee's problems over the book. It's also fascinating to read about a seventeen-year-old juggling a career and everything else in her life. Reagan and Dee have one of those friendships where even when they fight, they won't hold it against each other, and they'll both be instantly with each other in a crisis. And for grief, Matt's mother died recently, and she again hits the nail over the head with her descriptions. This sentence got me, as it was what I'd been feeling that exact week: "I think the worst part is reconciling all the things she'll miss."

So I'll just state this here - Reagan is not a nice person. She's not what I'd consider a role model, and I don't mean that because of her clothing choices, which have nothing to do with anything. She knows she's attractive, and dresses to show it off. But she smokes, which I really don't like. I understand it's a thing teens do and should get some recognition in YA, I wish it didn't have to. She's incredibly judgemental and she will act rashly or selfishly at times. She is full of girl-hate towards other girls, too. I did think it was hypocritical of her, but then I realised she might be judging them on traits she perceives in herself. I think that self-respect is a very messed-up term to start with, but Reagan was not in a good place when she started going out with Blake. And how people act on the one night a year where they get to let their hair down and have a bit of fun seeing a celebrity in the flesh is not normally how they are everyday. Funnily enough, it seems to be the fans of Matt who she is worse too...

I also felt like the ending dragged on a bit long. There was only so much of Matt apologising I could take before I wanted Reagan to just take him back, already. However, I do understand why Reagan would have been apprehensive, as she is used to people leaving and proving themselves untrustworthy.

Lord is also good at making people rethink their original views of a character. Reagan does eventually realise that she might be being too harsh on Brenda. I was disappointed that Corinne didn't quite get the same treatment, but I did enjoy the twist with her.

I'll recommend this to people who are already Emery Lord fans and therefore familiar with her style, and those looking for a summer contemporary with a bit of heart.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A Review of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a book by Jesse Andrews, which has been made into a movie. Greg Gaines lives his life as a high school chameleon, just trying to get through. He can hang out casually in any clique, but has no-one he would consider a friend. He does have Earl Jackson, but they mostly hang out to make movies and Greg considers them co-workers. This does change when Rachel Kushner, Greg's once sort-of girlfriend from middle school, is diagnosed with Leukaemia. Greg's Mom convinces him to hang out with her to cheer her up, and Greg find herself more involved in her life than he, quite frankly, ever wanted to be.

Maybe, possibly, just not quite my sort of book? Some of the jokes and humour fell flat to me, but I'd be lying if I said some didn't have me laughing, too. I was all set to make the John Green The Fault in our Stars comparison, but I think in overall tone, it's more like Paper Towns. Which is especially odd as Paper Towns is my favourite John Green book. In fact, it's possible that it the the anti-"Cancer Book" cancer book many people were searching for in The Fault in our Stars.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it is honest. Cancer does suck. People don't always respond to tragedy well, especially when it only tangentially effects them. Greg is very much a teenage boy, with what I think considering I have never been a teenage boy, a very typical teenage boy mindset. He's awkward as anything, too. However, I did love how obviously passionate he was about films and film-making. Sure, he doesn't think he's any good, but he's a kid messing about with his Dad's camera. He still manages to put something together with improvised props and sets, and not every teenager would be able to do that. I think with a little more guidance and some practice, he'd get good.

Also - you didn't learn anything from Rachel's death? Not to be nicer to people in general in case they have cancer, or that people with cancer are essentially people and should be treated as such or that people who "have nothing interesting to say" can often be interesting once you get to know them? I mean, sure, there's not always some deep revelation to be had about how fleeting life is and you should live it to the fullest, but I'm sure there is some takeaway to be had. I mean, I know that not everyone learns big life lessons after an event like this, but these aren't big life lessons, they're just... little things that can change an outlook.

There were some lines that made me side eye Greg's, and by extension Andrews', attitude towards women. "Most girls are annoying" "The girls proceeded to cover the box in glitter, talking about domesticity or pixies." I understand that views expressed by characters in a book are often not representative of the views of the author, but this book is also going to be read by many teenagers who are still shaping their worldview, and one of the ways they do that is through media. Earl also displays some problematic views, such as one entire conversation where he is incredibly biphobic. Really, I think this is more representative of the fact that teenagers can and do think like that, but that section may be an uncomfortable read for people who are bi. Teenagers are still developing and we can still change our views throughout adulthood. I think the reason this bothers me more is that Greg's problematic behaviour is called out somewhat, but Earl's is left unchallenged.

I have watched the movie before, and I have to say that I love it. The movie hit the exact right notes to be a comedy, and toned down the bad side of Greg's personality somewhat. The difference I often find is that movies cannot give us such a direct look into a characters head as a book can, so we never see their more unsavoury thoughts. Sometimes I feel this is at the expense of giving characters some depth, but here I feel it was the right decision.

So I do recommend this to people who are still looking for that cancer book which is not a Cancer Book.

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.