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Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta - Review

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Where did I get it? I'd heard some buzz about it on book Twitter so when I saw it on Kindle for £1.89 I bought it. 

What's it about? The book spans quite a few years in the life of Ijeoma, starting with the Biafran War when she is a small child, and the death of her dad in a bombing raid. Ijeoma's grief stricken mother sends her to live with a grammar school teacher and his wife, who treat her pretty badly and make her live in a hovel outside. Ijeoma is Igbo, and Christian, but she meets a girl of a similar age, Amina, whose family are all dead, who is Hausa, and Muslim. They share the hovel, and start a sexual relationship. When it's discovered, Ijeoma is sent home in disgrace and her mother starts to discipline her with the Bible, telling her that her love for Amina is an abomination. Ijeoma doesn't agree, and we see her come to terms with herself and her faith as she grows older. 

I liked the scope of the novel, and I feel like quite a few books by Nigerian authors are a bit the same - they're not contained to small time periods. I really liked Ijeoma, she's utterly likeable. 

What age range is it for? While this isn't a Young Adult novel, it is of course about a young girl, so I think that for a discerning older teen, it would be really interesting and enjoyable. I mention some of the more adult stuff below, so take care. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, but take care of yourself for anti-LGBTQ talk as described above. It's utterly believable and in keeping with the character of Ijeoma's mother and their religious beliefs, but it can be triggering and painful to read. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Of course! I liked how the war between the Igbo and the Hausa was explained, too. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and it's somewhat explicit in terms of body parts, but done in a really beautiful way. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, since the novel opens with a war 

Are there swear words? No

What criticisms do I have? None really. I liked the book and found it pretty easy to read. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely. It's nice to read about LGBTQ+ people in a culture that isn't Western

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was one of the first books on my Kindle and I'll be honest, the cover grabbed me, hah

What other books is it like? It reminded me a lot of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, given the setting of Nigeria and the backdrop of the Biafran War. 

How many stars? Four out of five. Really good read. 


Sunday, August 13, 2017

I didn't get to go to YALC this year. It was a combination of not having enough money and not having enough energy mentally or physically to go to London, stay over, go to the conference all day, and get home again. I'm hopeful that next year I might get there again, but I just couldn't this year.

All weekend, on Twitter, I kept seeing people having a great time, and I kept complaining to my partner that everyone was having a good time without me. I kept hearing about so many books that I wanted to buy or pre-order. I was having real Fear of Missing Out and I didn't like it one bit!

But then my lovely friend Kate came to my rescue and said that she had duplicates of a bunch of stuff that she'd picked up, and would I like it? I of course said yes, and a few days later a huge envelope of swag came dropping on to my doormat! I was overwhelmed by it all, and I need to go through it all and look up all the books that I haven't heard of to see if I'd like to buy them.

This is some samplers and badges, and a flash drive (does it have anything on it, I wonder), and the pink book is blank notebook. I am TOTALLY in love with the badges in the middle, they're Emery Lord badges about The Names They Gave Us and they are gorgeous. I'm intrigued to read the Holly Bourne sampler

More samplers. The white one is Clean by Juno Dawson, it's impossible to see here in the photo. I am really excited to read the Floored one, because I've heard SO much hype about this book, and the Paige Toon one will probably be pretty good too.

And here's a bunch of bookmarks and postcards. I'll put a couple of them up on my wall, and the others I might send to friends. I love the One Memory of Flora Banks bookmark. 

Thank you so much to Kate, I feel like I didn't totally miss out on YALC after all. 

Reading In Heels - Review

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My friend Alice, who I went to school with a million years ago, founded a magazine called Running in Heels, which I read periodicially. Recently the magazine launched Reading In Heels, a book subscription box, so in order to show Alice my support I signed up. At £12.40 for a box (including postage) I felt it was a bargain. My other box is all books on a Young Adult theme, so I liked that this one is for adult fiction books. I was also swayed because my friend Stacey had signed up to this and I thought we could read the books at the same time and talk about them.

My first box arrived at the weekend and I was thrilled. The box looks gorgeous, and the contents make this a really luxurious feeling box, where you could settle down and have a really nice pamper session while reading your book. I think it's definitely worth the money, so I'm glad I've signed up for a few months' worth. I spent my own money on this and was not compensated in any way for writing this post.

The box is really pretty, I'll definitely reuse it for something or other

This cute little bookplate/bookmark is just the kind of thing I like filling in!

I don't actually drink tea, but I like sachets like this to send with my penpal letters!

I do however like facemasks, I never buy them for myself but I seem to get given them and they always get used!

This bar of raw chocolate was included, but I gave it away to my vegan friend as I'm not sure I'll like it

This isn't something I'm likely to use, but I'll find someone who is!

And finally, here's the book! It sounds intriguing, I can't wait to get reading it!

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark - Review

Saturday, August 5, 2017

I want to start off with the caveat that I didn't like this book. I started off liking it, and while I mostly liked Jess and thought that the trans representation was good, I didn't like the rampant fatphobia and it actually made me want to not finish the book. I'm 33 years old but I can still get affected by stuff like this, so I dread to think how I would have felt twenty years ago, and I feel awful for any readers who may have been affected. You are not unloved or invalid as a human just because your body is bigger than some other people's bodies.

Secondly, while this book is about a trans person, it's not BY a trans person. It's by the mother of a trans person, she writes about her daughter in the front of the book. While this obviously means that she knows a lot about parenting a trans girl, it doesn't mean that she knows how her daughter feels. It's not her own voice and I think that needs to be noted. 

Where did I get it? Amazon, I went on a bit of an LGBTQ+ splurge in January and this was one of the books I bought. My partner and I have actually been going through my books and I have a LOT of LGBTQ+ Young Adult books! I'll show you photos of my collections once all the books are sorted. 

What's it about? Jess is a trans girl and has just left school. While there, she hasn't been out, so she's been living as a boy, but she's planning to start college as a girl. She couldn't start hormones any earlier because her dad refused to give his permission for her to do so, and so she hasn't been to Chicago to visit him since they fell out. He's getting married to Jan, her mother's ex best friend, and while he sent Jess an invitation, she told him she wasn't going. However, she and her best friend Chunk are planning to drive across the country so Jess can attend - as a girl. 

Chunk is described as "big", and his got his nickname from a counsellor at camp who gave it to him. Near the beginning of the book he tells Jess that their schoolmate bullied him, and Jess is pretty oblivious about what he's been through, and dismisses his struggles as not being as bad as hers, basically. This obviously annoys him and as we go through the book he lets Jess know this more and more. He's texting a girl in Illinois and Jess is jealous, and pretty unreasonable about it too, in my opinion. She also keeps going on about his body, and to begin with I thought this was just Jess the character being a bit rubbish on body positivity. 

However, at one point, the two meet a girl, Annabelle, and end up going back to her house with her for the night. And there we meet her grandmother, Mamie, who is agoraphobic and doesn't leave the house because of panic attacks. That's totally legitimate, of course, but Mamie is described in the most fatphobic terms possible, and for one thing I want to make clear that not all people who don't leave the house are fat, and obviously lots of fat people are going out into the world and working and having friends and all of that kind of stuff. 

I don't think that the fatphobia was just Jess' character; it was so insiduous that I feel like it was the author's views coming in too. Even when Jess is called out, it didn't go fair enough for me as an apology for the horrible things she had thought and said. I didn't like this aspect of the book at all, and was going to give it one out of five. However, I think the trans representation is good, and there's no violence towards Jess as a trans person, so I'm giving it two with a LOT of caveats. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously! More than one, too, but no spoilers

Are any main characters people of colour? No

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, well, I guess Mamie isn't that main of a character but she has mental health issues obviously.

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No, I guess there's some mentions of Jess' hormone drugs but that's all.

Is there any talk of death? Not really

Are there swear words? Very few

What criticisms do I have? See above! I love the road trip novel as a concept, and I did like Jess when she wasn't being awful

Would I recommend the book? Not really 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I found it again while sorting out all my books.

What other books is it like? It's actually a lot like one I've written myself, but I can't tell you to read that, can I?!

How many stars? Two out of five

Where is the book going now? I'm not sure. As I didn't like it, I don't know that I want to pass it on to anyone! 

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern - Review

Friday, July 28, 2017

Where did I get it? I saw someone on Twitter mention a book round robin, and I was intrigued, so I joined in. We each had to send a book we really enjoyed to a mystery person, and then receive a book from someone else. We have to read the book, give somewhat of a review, and send it on to the next person. Faye from Daydreamer's Thoughts sent it to me. 

What's it about? Tamara's dad has recently taken his own life, bringing an end to Tamara's life in a big house with a pool near Dublin. She and her mum have to move to Meath to live with her uncle Arthur and aunt Rosaleen. The house is miles away from anything Tamara knows both literally and figuratively. Rosaleen is keeping secrets from Tamara, while Arthur says practically nothing. Tamara's mum is quiet, mostly asleep, lost in her grief. The house is the gatehouse of a castle, which is burnt out. Tamara takes to wandering through the grounds and feels like someone is watching her. One day, the mobile library turns out and Tamara meets Marcus. On the shelves of the library she finds a book, an old leather book with a clasp. When she opens it, the pages are blank. She tries to return it to Marcus but then discovers that she herself has written about the events of the next day. Things start coming true as the diary predicted, but can Tamara change the events by acting differently, and can she found out the truth about her family?

What age range is it for? See, this is a complicated issue. When I read Flawed by Cecelia Ahern last year I was pretty sure that was her first Young Adult novel. She is better known as a writer of women's fiction, and to begin with I thought this book came into adult fiction, even though the protagonist is sixteen. I do think that any fan of Young Adult could love this too, so I'm going to say it's a crossover with a Young Adult bent to it.

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I'm going to say yes,
for mental health issues, and for some stuff I don't want to spoil. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, but it's not at all graphic. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Kind of. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and obviously trigger warning for suicide

Are there swear words? No, not one I don't think? 

What criticisms do I have? I feel like this book was striving to be something, but didn't quite attain what it was aiming for. It didn't quite make me care enough about the characters in order to care what the ending was going to be. We didn't get enough of the history for the denoument to matter to me, even though I really liked Tamara as a character. I felt like characters were being obtuse just for the sake of it, which I didn't like. I don't think this was a bad book, but it didn't feel polished enough to what it could have been. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if you're a fan of stuff like this with fantastical elements. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? For the round robin at stated above!

What other books is it like? I'm going to say it's like We Were Liars by E Lockhart

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Heading on its way to Emma! 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - Review

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Where did I get it? It was one of the books that my friend Laura lent to me. I've been trying to get to them so I picked this up. It's one of Rowell's adult fiction books, although I might categorise it as "New Adult" because there's nothing raunchy or violent in it. It took me ages to read because I picked something else up while I was away for the weekend. 

What's it about? It's 1999, and Lincoln is 29 and lives with his mum in Nebraska. He went to college in California with his high school girlfriend Sam, who ended up breaking his heart. Lincoln dropped out and has spent the last decade studying and being quite unhappy. He gets a job at the local paper, working in the IT department. Email is a relatively new thing to use, and Lincoln is given the job of reviewing emails which get flagged for having certain terms in them. He's supposed to send warning emails when this happens, but then he starts reading Beth and Jennifer's emails and can't make himself send them a warning.

Beth and Jennifer have been close friends for several years. Beth is living with her boyfriend, musician Chris, while Jennifer is married to Mitch, who wants them to have a baby. The two email back and forth and Lincoln reads them all, and starts to fall in love with Beth, even though he's never met her. 

What age range is it for? I'd say 19+, even though there's nothing sexual or violent in it, I feel like a lot of the subject matter is definitely geared towards adults. That said, if you're a teenager who loves Rainbow Rowell, you'd probably enjoy this too well enough. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No, it's not a diverse book

Are any main characters people of colour? Again no

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yet again, no. 

Is there any sex stuff? There are vague mentions of it, but nothing too explicit

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, somewhat.

Are there swear words? A few. They're self censored in places! 

What criticisms do I have? At the beginning of the book I couldn't get into it. I couldn't get to grips with the email format and I felt like they were distancing me from getting to know Beth and Jennifer better. However, I got into the rhythm of them and really enjoyed both characters. I liked their friendship and how honest they were with each other, but it did take a bit to get into it.

As for Lincoln, he's a really sympathetic character. I liked his mum and his sister, too. However, I did find it quite creepy that he basically stalks these women's emails. It's something he struggles with too, so I do give it credit for that. I didn't know how it would end, and I was worried that it would be gross and inappropriate, but it really wasn't. I liked the ending a lot actually. 

Would I recommend the book? Yeah, I think so

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Mostly because I came across Laura's books again while looking for something else the other day! 

What other books is it like? I don't know, it reminded me a lot of stuff like Cecelia Aherne, but also Rowell's other books, especially Fangirl. 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I've posted it back to Laura so it'll be back with its rightful owner!

When the Music's Over by Peter Robinson - Review

Monday, July 10, 2017

This might be a really strange review and I really apolgise for that if it is. I've just finished this book after it's been dragging on for over a week. It really wasn't grabbing me and unfortunately I think it will be the last of the DCI Banks books that I'll read.

I've read probably most of them now. I got into them years ago, probably around fifteen years ago when I was an older teenager. My dad was really into crime novels and I often picked them up from him. I think though that I found Peter Robinson first. The books are set in Eastvale in North Yorkshire, which I think is supposed to be Skipton, and concern Alan Banks, who, at the beginning of the series, has just moved to Yorkshire from London and is dealing with being a more provinical copper than the lights of the big city. Banks is a really likeable character - he is somewhat of a maverick cop, but they all are in books aren't they - and he likes music and Laphroaig whiskey and has a string of girlfriends who are all interesting people. His partner, DI Annie Cabbot, is also likeable, although less so in this novel, I have to say. Plus I really like the setting of North Yorkshire, somewhere I really love and know quite well. I feel like Peter Robinson creates a good sense of the town, of Banks' place within it, and of the atmosphere of the countryside. So I've read a lot of the series, mostly picked up in charity shops for a couple of quid and shared with each of my parents - my dad when he was still alive, and my mum even now. 

So when I saw that this one, published last year, was on Kindle for £1.89, I bought it. I started reading it just a couple of weeks later and while I liked the story I feel like Robinson just hasn't managed to keep the stories modern enough for me. I'll go into that in a bit. 

In this book there are two cases going on. Banks is tasked with investigating an historic allegation of sexual assault. Linda Palmer is just fourteen at the time, in 1967, and on holiday in Blackpool when she meets TV personality Danny Caxton. She's eager to impress him and goes back to his hotel room, where she's raped by Caxton and another man. She and her mother report it back at home in Leeds, but the case is quickly dropped. In the modern time, she has been inspired by cases like the Jimmy Savile one and has reported the crime again. It is part of a bigger investigation into Caxton, who is now eighty five. 

Meanwhile, a girl is found murdered on a quiet road near Eastvale. She has been raped, but by different men to the person who murdered her. Identifying her leads Annie to Wytherton, a place on the edge of Teesside, where racial tensions are running high. Banks has to oversee both cases and deal with press intrusion into both too.

I liked both stories and I felt that both were done quite well. Annie's attitude towards immigrants was, I felt, quite out of character to me, no matter how often she tried to say that she just wanted to catch the bad guys, no mater what race they were. I really went off her in this book. I also felt like there were some writing issues with the teenagers involved. Even though the novel is set in about the current year (they keep saying the rape of Linda Palmer happened "about fifty years ago"), no one thinks to check the social media accounts of the teenagers involved. For real, there's not one mention of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or anything like that. I honestly believe that if you've just got the identity of a fifteen year old girl, you're going to check her social media to see who she's been hanging around with recently. And yet, nobody does. Furthermore, some of the names given to the teens are strange - one is called Carol Fisher. I don't know about you, but I think kids born around the turn of the century don't tend to be called Carol. They're called things like Amelia and Jade and Caitlin. I feel like Robinson could have done some research in naming his characters.

Even more furthermore, there's a part where one of the police officers goes to talk to a teenager about what's happened, in secret. This teenager does not speak like a current teenager. Not even the most articulate teenager would have used some of the phrases that she did, which sounded archaic even to my own eyes. I wish Robinson had done a bit more research into this, too. He should read some Young Adult to get a feel for how to write convincing teenagers!

I was talking to my partner as I was reading this book. He always asks whether I'm enjoying what I'm reading and I usually don't have much to say, but this time I told him I wasn't really enjoying it, because of the issues above. That made me think a bit more about the series as a whole. I think the problem is that Robinson didn't expect that he would be writing them for so long. The first book was published thirty years ago and at the time, Banks isn't a young man. He's been in the Metropolitan Police for a while, and in the first books his children are teenagers. He's around forty at the very least. Thirty years on, as a copper, he'd have been retired for fifteen years and would be mowing the lawn in his retirement. But clearly the books took off (there's a TV show, too) and now it's 30 years later and the books haven't caught up to life, but neither is there any attempt to set them in the past. It is a problem, and it's really offputting, so I think I'm done with Banks unfortunately. I give this book three out of five. 


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