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.