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The Princess and the Suffragette by Holly Webb - Review

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I have been having some personal issues which mean that I haven't been able to read like I normally would, I've just not got the head space for it. I had started a book, but had to put it down because I just couldn't follow what was happening. Then I came across this book in a pile of books and realised I really wanted to read it, so I did. It was just exactly what I needed, I really liked it!

It's a sequel to A Little Princess, which was a book I loved when I was younger. I had a whole set of classic novels and although I liked a lot of them this was the one I really loved and read more than once. So when I saw this sequel was coming out to coincide with the centenary of some women getting the vote, I knew I wanted to read it. I was lucky enough to get it for Christmas through a swap.

I love the cover, first of all, in the Suffragette colours of purple and green. I also really like that I got the hardback, it feels like a really nice edition that will look lovely on the bookshelf.

So, the story focusses on Lottie, who we met in A Little Princess. She's very little in that book, but in the beginning of this she's about to turn eleven. She is pretty miserable at Miss Minchin's school, and seems to always be in bother with Miss Minchin. She ends up getting friendly with Sally, a new maid in the school, who is a Suffragette herself. Lottie, looking for something else in her life, begins to get interested in the movement too, and in the process finds out some things about her own life.

It's an easy book, suitable for any child who liked A Little Princess. The language isn't as difficult, and there are definite modern nods, meaning it is perhaps easier to read. Lottie is a likeable character and I would like to read more about her - she's definitely got a lot about her. I liked her relationship with Sally as well as the things which kept them apart.

There's some violence in the book, but not much and it isn't graphic, but it could be a good way to talk about the Suffragettes and Emily Davison in particular. I really liked the way it was done from a little girl's point of view.

All in all, I enjoyed this and am giving it four out of five.

Reading Difficult Books

Monday, March 12, 2018

I saw a tweet the other day from a parent wondering if The Handmaid's Tale was suitable for their teen, and I wanted to write a little bit about teens reading difficult books like that.

Firstly, of course, I believe that anyone can read anything, if they feel they're at a level to deal with the story contained within. Adult books don't have to be for adults and teen books don't have to be solely for teens. I believe staunchly in giving trigger warnings, because I want readers to be fully aware of what kind of content they might encounter. Triggers can be literally anything, but the main ones can be around mental illness, self harm, suicide, death, substance abuse, and so on. I try to always warn for this kind of thing, which is why I do reviews in the way that I do.

For me, one of the great things about Young Adult is that so many different types of stories are represented. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but things have come on so far in just twenty years. When I was a teenager, I went straight from reading Sweet Valley High and Babysitter's Club to stealing Maeve Binchy novels from my mum. They probably weren't the most suitable books for me, which is why I'm glad that YA novels exist. They deal with difficult subjects like sex and abuse, like coming out, like bad families, like any kind of subject you can think of. Kids are often dealing with hard things, and deserve to see that reflected back at them. I know that if I had been able to relate to characters in books when I was (especially) a younger teen, I wouldn't have felt so alone. I believe that it's often good to have pages in books with lists of where to find help and advice on the issues contained within. There's so much information out there these days, and not all of it is good or useful.

Often I read a book that is ostensibly for adults but I think it is suitable for teens, so I try to review it in such a way here so that teens would know whether it is suitable for them. I trust teenagers, I trust that by and large they know what they can cope with and aren't stupid. Of course, most teenagers in school are taught books that are supposedly for adults but which have themes they can understand. For instance, no one is arguing that To Kill A Mockingbird is a YA novel, but it's often taught to teenagers for exams.

I first read The Handmaid's Tale when I was about fifteen. I read 1984 first, which I'd heard about because bands I liked talked about it in interviews. (I love musicians talking about books they like, I think it's one of the best ways to get teens into reading). Then I think a teacher heard us talking about 1984 and recommended The Handmaid's Tale as being similar. They definitely have similar themes and ideologies, but the sexual violence in The Handmaid's Tale make it a harder read for me. I was so shocked at the rape scenes (with the Commander and Serena and Offred... it isn't often referred to as rape but I believe in calling it what it is... Offred doesn't have the freedom to say no, so she isn't consenting to what happens...) and even now find those very hard to read (or indeed watch, as I've seen most of the recent TV series with Elisabeth Moss).

I didn't fully understand the book, and I think a lot of that was because I didn't fully understand the political context behind it. I didn't know then what I know now about evangelical Christianity and especially its place in the United States. I think if your teen was going to read the book, it would be important to give some of this context, especially in the light of more recent events like the Trump government. I can think of a hundred books that might need some context giving, even YA ones. For instance, wouldn't it be good to give a reader not familiar with the Black Lives Matter movement some information about that as they were reading The Hate U Give? Of course some teens will be familiar with it, but for those who aren't I feel like good information would be important.

I also think that telling a teen that they can ask you anything about a book is important too. They might need context, they might need information, they might be worried about some part of themselves or their lives that they've seen reflected on the page.

Basically, I think that involved parenting is helpful for teenagers, but that mostly, teens can be trusted to read difficult books, and that they deserve to have safe spaces to ask for more information if they want it. What do you think?

My copy of The Handmaid's Tale is this edition, I "borrowed" it from 6th form college and never gave it back. It's annotated by a previous student and I love to read their notes alongside the text!

Taken Moons Candles - Review

Friday, March 9, 2018

A few weeks ago all the bookish people I follow on Twitter were abuzz about a tiny company called Taken Moons which sells bookish inspired candles. Now, I am a huge fan of candles. I nearly always have one burning on my desk, I buy Yankee Candle ones at Christmas and from outlets, and I pick up others from little gift shops throughout the year. I love all different kinds of scents but my favourites are sweet, citrusy flavours (there's a Yankee Candle one called Star Anise and Orange which I LOVE - I think it's perfect for winter). I also like supporting small businesses, so I thought I would treat myself to a candle.

There's a bunch of different flavours to choose from on the Etsy shop, but I went with "Just and Loyal" for two reasons. One, I liked the scent of "honeysuckle and green tea" and two, I am supposedly a Hufflepuff and I like being both just and loyal! I don't think the price is bad - I would pay £8 for a similarly sized candle in a gift shop.

So, I ordered, and then I waited, and then I realised that I hadn't received the candle so I messaged the shop. The owner and maker of the candles is called Rebecca like me and honestly she couldn't have been nicer. She apologised profusely for the parcel going missing in the post, and said she'd pop a replacement in the post for me immediately. This was slightly scuppered by the snow, but again she messaged me to apologise which I totally understood as I hadn't left the house either! I appreciated that she had kept me informed, though.

Anyway, the candle arrived today, nicely and safely parcelled up. The jar was full to the brim, which is nice. I lit it straight away. It's soy wax, which you might care about although I don't, but I do keep more of an eye on my soy candles as I find they burn a bit different to paraffin or beeswax and often need to be sheltered from any draught. The fragrance is great - I definitely get the honey sweetness with a bit of that grass scent of green tea underneath. It has a nice "throw", too - meaning you don't have to be close to the candle to get the smell.

Since my first parcel had gone missing, Rebecca had included a voucher for me for free postage if I wanted to buy another candle, and I have to say that I'm so impressed with Taken Moons that I think I'll definitely get another! Now, which one...?

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Where did I get it? I requested it on Netgalley, so thank you very much to Hachette Children's Group because I really wanted to read this book! I've read two books of Jen's previously and really enjoyed them, so I was keen to read this too. It was published in the United States in 2014, but is only just being published here in the UK. I hope that means a whole new audience for it! 

What's it about? It's set in a small town in Texas called Healy, where there are three thousand people and where everyone knows everyone's business. There's a girl called Alice Franklin, and everyone knows two things about her: firstly, that she slept with Brandon and Tommy at the same time at a party at the end of the summer, and that she was sending texts to Brandon a few weeks later when he is driving in a fatal car crash. Everyone knows those things are true, right? That's why no one is talking to Alice anymore and why she's started coming to school in a huge grey sweatshirt. 

The book is told from the points of view of four people. Firstly there's Elaine, who is a super popular girl in school and who hates Alice because Alice made out with Brandon even though Elaine is pretty sure Brandon belonged to her. Then there's Kelsie, who was Alice's best friend until all of this happened, and who remembers being an outsider in Flint and doesn't want to go back to that. Kelsie had some really awful stuff happen to her, which was one of the best bits of the book (and it's a good book!). There's Josh, Brandon's best friend, who was with him at the time of the crash and who ended up injured. Lastly there's Kurt, who is the resident school geek, and who was Brandon's next door neighbour. He has a huge crush on Alice, and is the only person in the school who will talk to her.

I know Jen is a high school teacher and I think it really shows. She writes beautiful and beautifully flawed teenagers who are really realistic and who do really stupid things, but Jen makes us understand why they do these things. From an adult point of view I was often thinking "Oh, love, please just use your words and sort this out", but teenagers don't have adult brains yet and they're often surviving a lot and just trying to get through life. If I was a teenager I think I would totally understand why these teens made a lot of these decisions. I think Jen has such a talent here. I liked how we got the full story of what happened to Alice bit by bit, and that we could only see the full story because we read so many points of view. Each teen didn't have the full story and probably wouldn't ever know it, so had their own prejudices and point of view. 

I loved the depiction of small town life, I think Jen brought that alive really well and made me think a lot about small towns and the politics and people that co-exist in them. 

There's a lot of political stuff in the book but without it being overtly so. There's a lot about sex, and sexual assault, and slut shaming, all done really well and in ways that I would hope make readers think. Jen is one of my favourite authors at the moment and I'm pretty sure that's partly due to the fact I follow her on Twitter and see her political opinions there. This book definitely deserves to be read. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, I don't think so

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic but be warned for descriptions of sexual assault and slut shaming 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so? 

Is there any talk of death? Yes but again it's not graphic

Are there swear words? Very few 

What criticisms do I have? You know, almost none. Like I said, as an adult I just wanted to make the teenagers just talk to each other and sort things out, but I appreciate that teenagers often exist in little cliques that rarely cross paths. I actually thought the book was too short! I would've liked more of it! 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just couldn't wait after getting it approved 

What other books is it like? It's a bit like Wing Jones, which i read recently, and it's a lot like Moxie, also by this author, especially in its depiction of high school. I guess teaching in one is really good for writing!

How many stars? Four out of five, nine out of ten! 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater - Review

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Warning: spoilers ahead (a little bit) if you haven't read the Raven Cycle)

I finally finished the third book in the Raven Cycle series and I LOVED it! My relationship with this series is complicated and for several reasons this book took me nearly two weeks to read, but the pay off was worth it.

Okay so let me start at the beginning. I loved the Raven Boys, I thought it was a really perfect adventure with the cutest characters. I loved the mythology and the set up of searching for Glendower and I loved the juxtaposition of the boys' and Blue's ordinary lives with their individual worries and school lives. I was really excited for The Dream Thieves, but then I really didn't get on with it. I found it dragged and didn't really add a lot to the overarching plot of the series for me.

I guess that put me off a bit because I haven't picked up Blue Lily, Lily Blue until now. But I was wandering through the bookshelves and I do, and I thought, you know, I really ought to get to reading this whole series. I think I was also putting it off a bit because, as you'll know if you've read the series, right at the beginning, it's foretold by Blue that Gansey is going to die, and I just don't think I can deal with the heartache - even though I don't think he's going to die in a typical fashion because, well, I just don't believe it! But I knew it would hurt so I've been gaily going along in ignorance so that nothing terrible happens to Gansey.

But, anyway! I started reading this and got into it, but the text is very dense and that's one reason why it took me so long to read. I like to go over things to make sure I really understand what's going on. I've also been away for a couple of nights where I didn't read, and been a bit ill, both of which are things which don't make me rush through a book. And that's okay. Life happens. In 2018 I am definitely trying to focus on quality over quantity, and this book definitely fits in.

First of all, loads of things happened, all of which brought the plot along very nicely. The novel as a whole can only be set within about three weeks of time, which I really appreciated. Let me talk about each character and what they're up to:

Adam: There's not nearly as much Adam as I would like. He's still living above the church and is waiting for the court case against his father. He's pretty upset and he rows with Ronan which physically pained me. I think, in thinking about this series as a whole, that really, the first book is Adam's. It's about his family situation and abuse and about his escaping from that. The second book is Ronan's, this third book belongs to Blue. Presumably, that means The Raven King will belong to Gansey, which is great because I love Gansey, but also, if the first book is the most Adam I'm going to get I'm a bit sad about that. I need a whole TV series about Adam Parrish living his best life, to be honest.

Ronan: Ronan is back dreaming, but in a much more concise way. He's trying to wake things up at his family home, and he's discovered something about his brother that literally made me gasp when I read it. He's there for Gansey and for Adam when they need him, even if he's pretty belligerent about it when he wants to be. He and Blue have never really bonded, but then towards the end of this book he really comes through for her in a way that I really loved. I love him, in all his sullen sweary ways.

Gansey: Gansey's friend Malory has come from England and Gansey is trying to find another way into Cabeswater after suffering a horrendous panic attack near the beginning of the book. There's not enough Gansey in this book, but his scenes with Blue are adorable and painful in turn. I love him, I don't even care.

Blue: Most of this book is from Blue's point of view, which was great because it's so easy to like her. She's got a lot going on and a lot of grief after the disappearance of her mother in the Dream Thieves and desperately wants to find her. She's in love with Gansey but can't kiss him because of the curse upon her, so all her pining is quite relatable too. She makes friends with Jesse Dittley in a way that I thought was just brilliant. I am so glad that this particular part of the series was told from her point of view because I think her experiences gave it the gravity it deserved, if that makes sense.

So, there's a lot going on and threat coming from Greenmantle, who has moved to Henrietta and is teaching Latin at the boys' school (Latin teachers are always really shady characters aren't they). There's a few bits of his point of view which I also liked; his relationship with his wife Piper is pretty bonkers and funny, and honestly it was nice to read an adult's point of view in a YA novel.

I won't talk any more about the story, but there were a lot of twists and turns, many of which made me laugh out loud and some of which made me gasp and want to cry. I loved the whole thing, I will probably reread this book as a standalone at some point. The Dream Thieves did, as I suspected, set up some things in this book, which was nice to see. I laughed out loud at a lot of the conversation, I love how sarcastic each of the main four are with each other, and the little asides. I laughed so much that my partner kept asking what I was laughing at, and I think I piqued his interested enough that he might try the first book.

I love the series, but I'd be able to understand if people didn't. Some of it is just totally ridiculous and I just went with it and let it be, but I could understand if people didn't get it and couldn't run with it. We'll have to see what Lee thinks!

Most of all I love the friendships within this group. They will all literally die for each other and I love that. The fierceness of those friendships and the lengths to which everyone will go for all the others. The fact that everyone else might not really understand Gansey's mission to find Glendower but that they're willing to join in with it anyway. That for me is the real takeaway of the series and I think it's gorgeously summed up here:

I love it, it gives me all the feels!

Finally, I have to show off that my copy of this book is signed. I met Maggie at YALC in 2016 and got her to sign this. I was using my signed Becky Albertalli bookmark too!

I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan - Did Not Finish

Sunday, February 18, 2018

It is so rare that I don't finish a book. I like a lot of different genres and can usually find something in a book to keep reading, so even if I don't like something particularly, I nearly always end up finishing it. Plus, I'm quite discerning about books I pick up off the shelf and often know that I already want to read it, if that makes sense. I try to unhaul books quite often and donate them to charity or libraries if I know they're something that I'm no longer into. I don't have loads of time to spend reading so I like to read books that I can see something in.

I think though that 2018 might be the year to give up on books if they're not grabbing me by, say, 30 pages in. Life is too short and I've got dozens of books that might be amazing and that are waiting to be read.

I started I Am Thunder with high expectations because I'd heard great things. It's about a Muslim teenager whose boyfriend wants to join Islamic State, I think. I didn't get that far, because I just couldn't get into the style. Muzna, the main character, didn't appeal to me at all. I tried, reading about forty pages, before I gave up. I'm sorry, because I think this would've been an excellent story to read, but I just couldn't get on with the style.

Have you read this? Did I give up too quickly? Do you give up on books?

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths - Review

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite writers. She has two series, the Ruth Galloway novels and the Stephens and Mephisto books, and I've read nearly all of them - I've just got the latest Stephens and Mephisto book to read. By rights, that one came out before this one, but I like Ruth too much and I really wanted to get back to her! I'll get to The Vanishing Box soon though, for sure!

So, Dr Ruth Galloway lives on the Norfolk coast with her cat and her daughter, Kate. She's an archaeologist and way back at the beginning of the series she was asked to help the local police out in dating some bones. She had an affair with local DCI Harry Nelson, and eventually had his baby, the afore-mentioned Kate. Ruth and Nelson have a very complicated relationship which is one of the best parts of the series. At the end of the previous book it was discovered that Nelson's wife Michelle is expecting another baby, and that is a major thread in this book, which takes place only six weeks later.

Okay, so, Ruth is feeling down at the beginning of the book because of Michelle's baby and because her mother has recently died, so when an old colleague Angelo rings her about a dig near Rome and asks her to come and have a look, it doesn't take much to persuade her to go, taking Kate with her. Ruth's friend Shona and her son Louis also tag along.

The four stay in a little town set high on the hillside not too far from Formia. They're in Angelo's grandfather's apartment, and it becomes clear that someone doesn't want them there. The descriptions of the Italian countryside were just perfect and so evocative of the area. One of the things I like the best in writing is when it's really sunny and beautiful and yet there's tension underlying, I think it really amps up the threat. I thought Elly did this brilliantly here, with her descriptions of the heat and the town.

Meanwhile, Nelson is in Norfolk. A man who once threatened him is now out of prison, so while Nelson isn't worried he does think he's seen Micky Webb hanging around his house. He's preoccupied with Michelle and the baby, especially since he's worried the baby might belong to his ex-colleague Tim.

I felt like this book was a needed breath of air in the series, taking Ruth out of her normal Norfolk setting and putting her into sunny Italy. I feel like I got to know Ruth better as a character, but I wish she'd had a bit more work to do! I always love Nelson and he actually didn't do anything particularly rashly annoying in this book (he usually does something that makes me groan, and although I won't spoiler, the big thing he does do in this didn't annoy me in the slightest; in fact, I loved it!)

I wish there was a bit more theology in this book, as with the rest of the more recent ones - I feel like the early ones had more theology, which I love. But, in all I'm giving this five out of five because I really enjoyed it, and it was a flash of sunshine in a cold February!



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