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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! 

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