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Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Where did I get it? I bought it ages ago as my friend Laura kept recommending Adichie to me. I picked it up as part of Diverse December. 

What's it about? This is an adult novel, but I think some discerning older teenagers would be okay reading it and would enjoy it. It takes place in Nigeria before and during the Nigerian War, which was something I knew nothing about. It has four points of view - Ugwu, who is sent from his village to work as a houseboy for Odenigbo. Odenigbo's girlfriend Olanna moves in with them, whose twin sister Kainene works for their dad. Kainene's English boyfriend Richard is often at Odenigbo's in the evenings, when intellectuals gather to discuss politics and so on. Ugwu learns to read and is very close to his Master and Olanna. Trouble is brewing between the Hausa people and the Igbo people, and eventually all of Odenigbo's household has to flee to escape the conflict. A new republic, Biafra, is created, a name which was familiar to me as having had a famine - caused, in fact, by this war. The narrative jumps between the early 60s, before the conflict, to the late 60s, during the conflict, and then back again, showing us the birth of Baby, Olanna and Odenigbo's daughter. When we go back finally to the late 60s, the war is coming to an end and Biafra falls.

This is an epic novel in scope, themes, characters, and language. It's brilliant.

What age range is it for? Like I said, a discerning 16 year old could enjoy this, but do be careful  

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters non-white? Yes, as it's set in Nigeria. Richard, the main white character, has a lot of reflections on being a white minority in Africa, it's interesting. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, I mean, there's a war

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it is a little explicit. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, there's a war and a famine, and a couple of explicitly gruesome deaths, which the main characters talk about and reliver. 

Are there swear words? Yes, a few

Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. 

How many stars? 9 out of 10. It took me ages to read but I did really like it. 

Hawk by Jennifer Dance - Review

Friday, December 11, 2015

Where did I get it? I requested it on Netgalley so thank you to Dundurn Press. Thanks also to their employee Kyle; I couldn't get the protected pdf to work (even though I tried to convert it) and he worked with me via email to get it to me - excellent customer service!

What's it about? Adam is a Canadian First Nation teen whose parents left him in Fort Chipewyan to be raised by his grandfather for the first eight years of his life, and then moved him to Fort McMurray which is much bigger. At the beginning of the novel Adam is fourteen. His grandfather now lives with the family and Adam still feels bitter towards his parents for leaving him. His dad Frank works in the oil sands, where bitumen is taken from the sandy soil, and on a trip there Adam and his grandfather rescue a fish hawk that is covered in oil. Adam is a long distance runner, but he's just been diagnosed with leukaemia. Through the novel, his grandfather takes to calling him Hawk, in line with their ancestry, and Hawk and his family start to question whether run offs and poison from the oil industry is leading to cancers among the First Nation people in Chip, and whether it has led to Hawk's leukaemia.

Time occurs quite strangely in this novel, even though it's short. Hawk goes to hospital and ends up in a coma after a bone marrow transplant from his dad. When he comes back to McMurray, he's quite weak and tries to make friends with his former crush Chrissie and his former best friend Gemma. He wants to go to Chip with his grandfather, which his parents (with whom he has a much better relationship) agree to. They take him via one of the ice roads and leave him. 

Hawk and his grandfather get involved in research of the fish in the Athabasca Lake, to see if there is poison in them. Hawk is much better and must give a presentation about the lake and the toxins.

At the beginning of a lot of chapters there is the story of two fish hawks, Three Talons and White Chest, who migrate north every summer to lay eggs and raise young. We see three lots of their chicks die. White Chest is the fish hawk that Hawk and his grandfather rescued, which they find out near the end of the novel. 

This is an epic novel in scope, but is quite short and I would have liked it to be longer. It was fascinating to read about these First Nation communities and how their old ways of life are being killed off, and to learn more about the environment and what the oil industry is doing. None of it is given in a preachy way, I don't think. It is an excellent novel. 

What age range is it for? 13+, depending on your 13 year old. None of the themes are taboo, but they are quite thought-provoking

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters non-white? Yes. Hawk investigates his First Nation ancestry somewhat, and how the old ways sometimes conflict with the new.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? When Hawk is suffering a lot, he is quite severely disabled, both in hospital and at home.

Is there any sex stuff? Not at all


Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Somewhat, yes. 

Are there swear words? Only a couple

Would I recommend the book? Yes, absolutely. Even (maybe even especially) for British teens, who may not know much about First Nation communities. 

How many stars? 9 out of 10. It isn't perfect but it's pretty darn close! I definitely want to read more by this author. 

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters - Review

Monday, December 7, 2015

As I've said before, I don't exclusively read YA or children's fiction, although this year has been heavily tilted that way. But I recently read The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters for Jenny's Bloggers Book Club which I really like joining in with.

This is my first foray into Sarah Waters - I own a couple of her books but I've never actually picked one up. I've seen the TV adaptation of Tipping the Velvet, although only within the last couple of months. I started The Paying Guests not really knowing what to except - it's a heft of a book though - 600 pages of small writing!

Frances and her mother are upper class people in 1920s London, living with the aftermath of the First World War and Frances' father's death and the debt that they've fallen into. They have a large house so they decide to rent out some rooms on their upper floor. Mr Leonard Barber and his wife Mrs Lilian Barber rent out the rooms; they are part of the "clerk class". Frances and Lilian become friends and eventually start an affair. It turns out that Frances previously had an affair with her friend Christina, which scandalised the family and which means that she now feels she must stay with her mother.

The women discuss leaving together, but one night everything goes wrong and they must deal with the aftermath.

I found the first part of the novel incredibly slow going. I know that Waters was setting up character and motivation and stuff, but GOSH, I found the first 200 pages very hard. It took 220 pages before Frances and Lilian kissed for the first time! But once that happened, the book really picked up pace. I felt like it dragged a bit at the end, too, but without spoiling the plot I will say that it did fit with what was happening.

I really enjoyed the novel and am looking forward to discussing it with other on December 10th. Here's my usual rundown....

Where did I get it? Amazon

What's it about? See above.

What age range is it for? 18+, parts of it are quite explicit and gory. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, I mean that is quite the premise. It's not talked about in such terms, though. Frances, when telling Lilian about Christina, merely says they were "friends". 

Are any main characters non-white? No

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Minor characters, yes, those who have been disabled by the war 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's done in a descriptive but sensitive way 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, it is a bit gory.

Are there swear words? Very few

Would I recommend the book? Yes, definitely. Loads of people have always recommend Sarah Waters to me and now I know why.

How many stars? 8 out of 10, it was definitely a well-written and crafted novel. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, it's a gorgeous cover! 

Diverse December

Friday, December 4, 2015

So while perusing Twitter recently I came across this post and others like it, which told me about a challenge called Diverse December, where readers make a commitment to read only authors by Black and Minority Ethnic authors. It got me thinking.

I will admit that my white privilege means I rarely think about the colour or ethnicity of an author. I have read lots of books about BME characters and it's one thing I love in Middle Grade and Young Adult literature, but I definitely could do better. So my plan for December is to read ONLY books by BME authors or which are primarily about black or minority ethnic protagonists.

As luck would have it, I requested a book called Hawk on Netgalley just last week, which is about a Canadian First Nation teen. So that's my first book of December!

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens - Review

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

You can read my review of the first in this series here, and the third here

Where did I get it? The library, must remember to take it and the other one back! 

What's it about? Hazel is spending the holidays with Daisy's family at Fallingford, and it's also Daisy's birthday. Kitty and Beanie, their school friends, arrive too, as well as Uncle Felix, Aunt Saskia, and Mr Curtis, who is a rum sort, and who ends up murdered through arsenic poisoning. The Detective Society, with two new assistants in the shape of Kitty and Beanie, start to investigate - even though Uncle Felix wants them out of the way and their governess Miss Alston is acting strangely. 

What age range is it for? 9+, as the others. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters non-white? Yes, Hazel is from Hong Kong, I feel like it's less mentioned in this one though. She does find England strange though, in a really lovely way 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Not at all

Are drugs mentioned or used? No

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and I also need to trigger warn for mentions of suicide 

Are there swear words? No

Would I recommend the book? Yes, these are really cute books. I've already pre-ordered the next which is out next March!

How many stars? 9 out of 10, lovely 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library! 

About A Girl by Sarah McCarry - Review

Friday, November 27, 2015

Where did I get it? I bought it when it came out, I must have read a review

What's it about? This is the 3rd in a series, which I didn't realise when I bought it. Tally was abandoned by her mother when she was born, left with her mum's friend, and brought up by Aunt Beast, her friend Raoul and his husband Henri. She's about to leave for college when she sleeps with her best friend Shane and gets caught up in whether a mysterious musician is her biological dad. She goes all the way across the US to meet him, and stays on the island where he lives, where she meets other people too, including Maddy, who she starts a relationship with. Things are confused and confusing on the island - Tally forgets to call home because time has no meaning, and odd things happen at open mic nights. This book is magical realism, something it does really well, even for me - I'm not a fan of the genre. 

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Tally explores her sexuality even though she never comes to any firm realisations about what she identifies as. Her friend Shane is trans, which is dealt with in a really lovely way right at the beginning of the novel. 

Are any main characters non-white? Yes, Raoul and Henri, and I think Tally herself may be mixed race. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not really.

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's done in a really beautiful way, nothing explicit but you definitely get the sense of what occurs between Tally and Maddy. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, somewhat. It's not scary, but it is tense. 

Are there swear words? Maybe a couple?

Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially is magical realism IS your genre. And even though I hadn't read the first two in the series, this one still made perfect sense to me. 

How many stars? 7 out of 10. A decent read. 

Where is the book going now? I'll probably keep it, I collect LGBT YA so it'll be an interesting one to add!

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne - Review

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Where did I get it? I bought it at YAShot after hearing Holly speak. I queued for her to sign it - she's lovely! 

What's it about? Evie is in recovery from a bad time with her mental health. She has OCD and was hospitalised for it, but now she's doing better. She's at college, she's reducing her meds, so is she normal yet? Her BFF is entwined with a boy all the time, and Evie dips her toe into dating too, and she also makes some new friends. But her mental health is getting bad again, and her parents and sister are worried about her. This is a really frank look at OCD and living with a debilitating mental health disorder. It may be triggering - take care of yourself, okay? It is, although very sad and quite upsetting for me personally, really good.

There's a lot about feminism in it too, which for young adults would be a really good introduction on to the subject. 

What age range is it for? 15+, depending on the 15 year old. As I said, take care.  

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters non-white? It's not mentioned.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yep, that's the premise

Is there any sex stuff? Not really, it's very senstively done

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, one of the characters uses marijuana a lot, and Evie is taking Fluoxetine (aka Prozac) 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, but not much

Are there swear words? Not many

Would I recommend the book? Yes, definitely. If you've never suffered from anything like this, it would probably be a really interesting and useful insight into living with a mental health issue. If you have suffered from OCD or something similar (for me, I spent my entire teens - and since - anxious as hell, so I understood a lot of what Evie thought/felt), then I hope it makes you feel less alone. Trigger warning again though - there's a lot about Evie's rituals (eg around handwashing) so if this will trigger you, please don't read it. 

How many stars? 8 out of 10, it isn't perfect but it's worth a read.

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, as it's signed to me :) 

YA Shot 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

I saw details about YA Shot 2015 on Twitter, and saw that it was being held in Uxbridge in October half term. As luck would have it, I was going to be near London in half term looking after my cousin, with my friend Sam. I bought tickets for Sam and I and we left bright and early on Wednesday for Uxbridge.

Alexia Casale had been in charge of organising the event and it is part of a year long thing they're doing in the borough. She introduced the first panel in the nice main room, and off we went!

The YA stuff all happened in the main room, the Middle Grade stuff in a different venue, and other talks dotted around. There were loads of volunteers to ask if you had any questions though, all very polite and up to speed.

Firstly we listened to the panel on "Surviving high school", where R J Morgan made me laugh a lot, and then we went to listen to the Diverse Labels panel chaired by the lovely Sarah Benwell (I'm a bit biased, because they're the flatmate of my BFF Lucinda). We left the venue to get some lunch, and then I snuck into the Crime and Punishment panel back in the main venue.

Other panels had used microphones, but this one didn't, which made everyone very hard to hear. Please do use the mics!

The next panel was called "Trigger Warning: exploring sensitive issues in ethical ways" and it was by far the best panel I saw. The four panellists - Alexia Casale, Holly Bourner, Tanya Byrne and Louisa Reid were all really interesting and very sensitive.

The last panel we saw was about dystopia and horror. There was events after that, but unfortunately Sam and I had to leave to get home to my cousin!

After each panel I went and bought at least one book by a featured panellist, and then was lucky enough to be able to get them all signed! I had a nice conversation with Holly Bourne, and a long conversation with Alexia, who was asking everyone what they thought. I was lucky to have budgeted to be able to spend quite a bit on books.

For an inaugaral event it was really great. The signing and book buying area could have been bigger, and it would have been good to have a break-out space, but it was excellent none the less.

On the way in we got a tote bag with a programme, some stickers, and some freebies inside:


And here's what I bought!


Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens - Review

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I read the third one in this series first and reviewed it here.

Where did I get it? The library!

What's it about? Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have a Detective Society and in this mystery get tangled up in the murder of Miss Bell, after Hazel sees her dead body in the school gym. They have a list of suspects and need alibis - but can they get past Matron long enough to do their deducing?!

What age range is it for? 10+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters non-white? Yes, Hazel is Chinese. There's not as much about that in this book as there is in the 3rd one, though. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes but it's not very gruesome. 

Are there swear words? No 

Would I recommend the book? Definitely. This series is a lot of fun. If I was ten years old, and into Malory Towers and other Blyton books, I'd be ALL OVER this series. Yes these aren't 'issue' books, but they're well written and just delightful to read. 

How many stars? 8 out of 10. Solidly good. 

George by Alex Gino - Review

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Where did I get it? I bought it with an Amazon gift voucher - thanks BFF!

What's it about? Everyone thinks George is a boy, but she knows she's not. She tries to tell people, and she wants to audition to play Charlotte in Charlotte's Web, but her teacher won't let her because she's "not a girl". George and her best friend Kelly come up with a scheme. George also comes out to Kelly, and I think the way Kelly reacts is absolutely wonderful. 

What age range is it for? 10+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously!

Are any main characters non-white? Yes, Kelly is black

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? No

Are there swear words? No

Would I recommend the book? Yes, definitely. It's a very sweet story for middle grade readers, especially for trans kids who need this kind of representation. Anyone could fall for George, though, she's very sweet. 

How many stars? 7 out of 10. 

I recommend reading this interview by the author :) 

This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin - Review

Monday, November 2, 2015

Where did I get it? Netgalley, thank you Sourcebooks!

What's it about? Ramona and Sam are best friends, but each of them is in love with the other, they just don't know it. They're in a band together, and they're applying for a prestigious music college for after high school. At the audition they meet Tom, who quickly becomes part of their band. Ramona has feelings for Tom too, so can she be with both boys, or...?

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, but I don't want to spoil exactly how

Are any main characters non-white? It's not mentioned.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? No

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? A tiny bit - Ramona's mum died when she was younger 

Are there swear words? Not many 

Would I recommend the book? Kind of. I really WANTED to love this book, and while I did like the inter-personal relationships between Ramona, Sam, and Tom, and how they ultimately resolved it, I felt like the world was really lacking in depth and description. I feel like the whole novel took place in Sam's garage, and there were no physical descriptions of the characters. 

How many stars? 6 out of 10. I didn't hate it, but it could have been so much better 

When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman - Review

Monday, October 26, 2015

Where did I get it? I bought it at YALC I think. 

What's it about? Ella Samson is an ordinary 17 year old girl, she's at 6th form college, she has divorced parents, she has a best friend called Deeta and an on/off boyfriend called Billy. Except she wakes up one morning and everything is different. Her parents are still together, her best friends are called Rachel and Jen, and even her hair and her room are different. Is she ill? In a parallel universe? If she is, can she get home? Can she find her old friends and Billy? And what's with the old woman who says she knows Ella?

What age range is it for? 14+


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? It's not mentioned

Are any main characters non-white? It's not mentioned.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not explicit

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, somewhat

Are there swear words? Not many 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, it's a pretty decent read.  

How many stars? 8 out of 10, it's well written and I'd pick up another book by Freeman. 
 

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