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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo - Review

Friday, October 28, 2016

Where did I get it? I bought it at YALC this year after hearing a lot about it. 

What's it about? Amanda is a trans girl, and is just moving from living with her mum to living with her dad at the beginning of the novel. She is in the south of the United States, in pretty much the bible belt. She has been out for a few years and has had surgery and taken hormones. She hasn't had much to do with her dad in that time, as he struggles to accept her. She quickly makes friends at school, from popular girls Layla, Anna and Chloe, to Bee, who confides that she is bisexual.  Amanda also starts going out with Grant, and wants to tell him about herself, but he has secrets of his own. 

Interspersed within the main narrative are chapters going back into Amanda's past, including when she was very small and living under her previous name, and including her parents dealing with her and each other and their divorce. 

Amanda is a really gorgeous character - I loved her. I was utterly rooting for her at all points. She's very likeable and humanly flawed. I really liked her. I like Grant, too, I liked his issues and his family. 

Meredith Russo is a trans woman herself and there are notes to cis readers and trans readers in the back of the book, which were both lovely. I think it's great to read a book by a trans author and I fully support more diverse authors getting published. 

What age range is it for? 15+, I think

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, of course. Amanda is trans, and straight. Bee is bisexual and I liked this side plot.
Are any main characters people of colour? It isn't mentioned, so I assume not.
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? Yes, a little, and it is beautifully done and was lovely to read.
Are drugs mentioned or used? Marijuana, but that's it. I liked it, actually, I thought Amanda and Bee sitting on the grass smoking pot was entirely real.
Is there any talk of death? Yes, and trigger warning for suicide/suicide attempts
Are there swear words? A few, and also homophobic slurs.
Would I recommend the book? Yes, god yes. Go, read it now. 
How many stars? Nine and a half out of ten - wonderfully almost perfect
Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, for sure. 

YA Shot 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

22nd October saw the second YA Shot event in Uxbridge, London. You can read my post about last year's event here. This year was even bigger and even better! I had such a lovely day.

I drove to Uxbridge on Friday afternoon; I'd booked a room in the Premier Inn in Uxbridge which is really new, very clean, very quiet, and has a huge car park. I'd definitely recommend it if you want to go to YA Shot next year, and even if you'd like to visit London but not stay in the centre. I lounged around feeling very luxurious in my hotel room, and I had food with my friend Von, and I went to sleep all cocooned in the duvet.

Having gone to YA Shot last year, I knew I could park in the Intu shopping centre and walk across to the civic centre. It cost me £10 for up to ten hours, which seemed absolutely reasonable. Having learnt my lesson at YALC, I had brought a suitcase with plenty of room for books, which was a little bit annoying to wheel around all day, but worth it! I arrived at the venue at around 10.30 and greeted by Alexia Casale and her mum, and went into hear the opening comments.

The first panel I went to was over in the Ministry of Magic, and it was "Out of the past: the age of the Tudors and Stuarts in YA", and was chaired by Andrew Prentice along with Ally Sherrick, Jane Hardstaff, and Jonathan Weil. While I'll probably never write any historical fiction, I enjoyed the panel and liked the sound of Ally's book, so bought it.

Here's this panel:

I headed back over to Middle Earth to hear a panel I was very excited about, called "The sound of music: the role and portrayal of music and the music industry in YA". I was excited to hear Chris Russell speak as I heard he went down a storm at YALC, I also really liked hearing Eleanor Wood, and the other panellists Marianne Levy and Sophia Bennett were excellent too. I asked a question about writing about music itself and whether they found it as difficult as I do - which they said they did! I bought Eleanor's book and went up to get it signed. I also spoke to Chris and he signed my notebook, and he gave me this Songs About A Girl wristband. 

This was the music in YA panel, it was really funny and cute. 

Here's my glittery event wristband and Songs About A Girl wristband, aren't they both cute?

My next panel was "Multiplicity: innovative ways of exploring identity in YA", chaired by Hilary Freeman with Kathryn Evans and Jeannie Waudby. It was really interesting and each of the panellists was very honest about their work which I appreciate. I went to speak to them in the signing room and all three were lovely. I'm really intrigued by the premises of Kathy's and Jeannie's books and look forward to reading them, and as you'll have seen previously, I really enjoyed When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman. 

This is a photo from this panel. I love Kathy's hair and dress so much!

After this I went and sat outside to eat my lunch; it was cool but not too chilly and honestly it was nice to have a bit of a break. Then I headed back into the Ministry of Magic for "The hurt locker: love, loss, and coping" with Sarah Alexander and Jenny Downham and chaired by Claire Furniss. Their novels all sound right up my street - gritty and realistic. I asked a question about whether there's anything they wouldn't write and they all felt that no, as long as it was done sensitively and with respect. 

I bought both of Claire's book because the blurbs both sounded excellent, and the others' books too, so afterwards I went back to the signing room yet again. I felt like I spent a lot of time in that room but the queues were really short and it was done really well. 

After that I had a bit of a chill out again in a quiet few seats near the signing room. I needed it and I was glad that kind of space was available! I was waiting for Lisa Heathfield to sign my copy of Seed, which I'd started reading on the Friday night. She was incredibly lovely and I gushed about how much I'd liked Paper Butterflies, even though it absolutely destroyed me emotionally!

Then I headed down to the final panel of the day, "To have and have not: exploring poverty, privilege and class through YA", which was chaired by Polly Ho-Yen with Michael Byrne, Patrice Lawrence and Steve Tasane. This is one of the things that I'm passionate about in YA - I think issues of class and privilege are massively underexplored at the moment. I couldn't buy books by these authors because the Waterstones stall had packed away, so I ordered them online while I was sitting in the audience. I am so glad that the organisers included a panel like this in the day. 

This is a photo from that final panel. 

Afterwards, I went back to my car and set off back up north. It wasn't a bad journey, just very dark in places! I should have booked another night in the hotel really. Next year I will!

And here's what I bought. Don't they all look so inviting?! They're all signed except for Boys Don't Knit which I picked up just because it appealed to me!

I think the organisers did so well again - YA Shot has a really welcoming, DIY atmosphere with no division between authors and visitors. I spoke to lots of authors about my own work which was really grand, and I just had a wonderful time. I can't wait for next year!

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - Review

Friday, October 21, 2016

I recently read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson as part of a bloggers book club that I'm part of. I tried to read it back in August but couldn't get into it, but once I got used to the style I found it really engaging and read it quickly. I can see how Jackson was an influence on Stephen King, because the kind of claustrophobia that King writes so well is found here as well.

The heroine of the story is Mary Katherine Blackwood, a troubled 18 year old who lives in a big house on the outskirts of a small town. She lives with her sister Constance and their uncle Julian, who is quite disabled and who needs a lot of care from Constance. The rest of the family are dead, poisoned by arsenic in the sugar bowl six years earlier. Constance was charged with their murders but was acquitted at trial and since then, she hasn't gone further than the garden.

Mary Katherine, aka Merricat, goes down in to the village twice a week to buy groceries, and while she is there must put up with the stares and hatred of the villagers, who taunt her with a song about the murders and who are resentful because the Blackwoods blocked off their land. Mary understands that her family were hated and that she is a pariah.

Back in the house, Mary feels a change coming, and has several rituals that she undertakes to try to protect herself. But then cousin Charles turns up and nothing will ever be the same again.

I don't want to write more about the story because I don't want to spoilt it. I think it's a really well-crafted story with really creepy parts. I think that teens who are into something like Stephen King, or the TV show Stranger Things, would appreciate this book. It's a great short novel. I'm giving it 9 out of 10!

YA in Dorset

Monday, October 17, 2016

Not content with going away to Ireland, I have also been to Dorset with my partner. We mainly relaxed, went to the seaside, swam in the pool, ate ice creams, things like that! One of my favourite things is to go in all the charity shops to see what they've got. I like to look at the books, jigsaws, bric-a-brac, records, whatever really!

First of all I found these Agatha Christie books in a shop in Honiton, where we went because I wanted to look at the lace they have there. They've got really nice covers and they were just £1.50 each, so I had to have them! I've only read one Agatha Christie so far in my whole life, so I'm looking forward to reading more.

The next books came from a bookshop in Chard, which sold both new and 2nd hand books, which I've rarely seen, but I liked it! On the Teen shelf, there were lots of classics which I thought was nice, and then this shelf below. I have All The Bright Places and need to read it soon!

Then there was also a shelf of pre-owned children's and teens books, all for £1 each. I picked up The Lottery, Sea Dance, and North of Beautiful just because they looked interesting and for a quid I'll take the chance! I also bought the Peter James book for my mum as a present as she's getting into the Roy Grace novels (and making me read them too).

I then bought When Mr Dog Bites for £1 in a charity shop in Axminster, because my friend Stacey recommended it to me aaaages ago, and again for a pound I'll see whether I like it!

I am extremely pleased with my holiday book haul!

Remix by Non Pratt - Review

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where did I get it? I bought it, back in March. 

What's it about? Kaz and Ruby are best friends. They've just finished their GCSEs and are spending the weekend at the Remix festival along with lots of friends and Ruby's brother, Lee. Kaz has just broken up with Tom, but still loves him, and Ruby has just broken up with Stu, who cheated on her. The girls are very excited to see their favourite band, Gold'ntone, but they also meet new people, see new bands, and more.

I read Trouble by Non Pratt earlier in the year and the problem I had with it was the same here - I just didn't feel like the story was complex enough. Or that they characters were, either. I felt like the storyline in Remix was thin, and I felt like there was too much telling and not enough showing. It's a shame because I really want to like this author, but I just don't love her stuff. Of course, others may feel really differently.

I found that the setting of a music festival here was an interesting one. I write about music myself, and I understand the difficulties in translating music on to the page. I felt like Non Pratt did well in parts, like when Kaz is playing the guitar, but not in others. I really liked seeing how another author handled this, though. 

What age range is it for? Given that Kaz and Ruby are both sixteen, I would normally expect to say that this was for fifteen year olds and older. However, due to the simplicity of the novel, I would say that anyone 14+ could enjoy it, and maybe even some thirteen year olds. 
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Ruby's brother Lee has a boyfriend, I actually really liked their side plot. 
Are any main characters people of colour? Kaz is supposed to be, although it's not explicitly said. 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not very graphic, and there's plenty of mention of using condoms, which made me happy.
Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, a couple of times. 
Is there any talk of death? No
Are there swear words? Yes, quite a few. It's quite well representative of British teens in that way!
Would I recommend the book? Not overly, but of course your opinion may differ and that's fine. 
How many stars? Four out of then
Where is the book going now? I'm not sure. I might give it away to someone. 

YA Shot Book Tour - interview with Hilary Freeman

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hello! Welcome to my blog if you've never been before, and hello to any previous readers too of course. I'm thrilled to be part of the YA Shot Book Tour today, because I'm really excited about the event in a couple of weeks. I had a really great time last year, and I bet this year will be even bigger and better!

I was pleased to be paired with Hilary Freeman for this because I really liked When I Was Me when I read it last year. I've got a couple of more of her books which I'll have to get around to soon! I asked Hilary if she would mind answering some questions for my blog, and she said that would be fine. I thought about the types of questions I'd like the answer to as both a reader of YA and as a writer of it too. I hope that you like the things I asked!

Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about your writing career? How did you get started? What have you had published?
My publishing story is a very unusual one. I’ve been a journalist and agony aunt for many years and, in 1995, I was agony aunt for CosmoGirl! magazine – Cosmopolitan’s younger sister mag for teenagers, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. The features editor asked whether I’d be interested in writing a novel because Piccadilly Press (who were bringing out a series of love stories imprinted with the Cosmogirl! logo) had asked for writer recommendations. I jumped at the chance, as I’ve always written creatively and wanted to write a novel, but I’d never had the confidence to complete one or submit it. So I wrote a few plot ideas and submitted them to Brenda Gardner, the then publisher at Piccadilly. She liked one of them and asked me to develop it, and then commissioned the novel based on a few chapters and a synopsis/chapter breakdown. That book, Loving Danny, about a tortuous relationship between a girl on her gap year and a troubled musician, came out in 2006. In the meantime I got an agent. So I did things in reverse!

Since then, I’ve had six more books published: Don’t Ask, Lifted, the three-book Camden Town Tales series, and my most recent book, When I was Me, which was published by Hot Key in 2015. I’ve never had to write anything entirely on spec, and I’ve never had a book rejected, which I know makes me incredibly lucky. I feel grateful for that every day. Being a journalist is very good training for writing novels because you instinctively know what’s important in the story and cut out all the flab. Plus, it makes you very good at meeting deadlines and turning things around fast, and not being precious about your copy because you’re used to being edited.

Do you write anything other than prose? What is your favourite form?
I used to write poetry when I was a teenager but it was pretty bad, and I haven’t written any for years. I have written the odd short story (one of which was published in an anthology put together by Arsenal Football Club). Of course, I also write lots of articles for newspapers and magazines and websites. And texts. And emails. And, occasionally, tweets.

Do you write for adults as well as young people? Why/why not?
I am currently working on an adult idea, which will hopefully turn into a full-length novel sometime in the near future. I don’t see a great deal of difference between writing for adults and writing for young people, and there’s no reason why you can’t do both. It’s just about understanding your readership and focusing on the things that matter to them. A good story is a good story, and good writing is good writing. Really, the only difference is what readers are interested in e.g. a teenage girl would usually rather read a book about a girl her own age than about a 90-year-old man.

What’s great about writing for young people? What’s bad about it?
The great thing about writing for young people is that you have the opportunity to make a real difference in their lives. I’ve had incredible emails from readers who’ve told me how my books have helped or inspired them. And young people tend to be very vocal about what they do and don’t like – they either love something, or hate it, but it’s rare that they don’t care. So you get a lot of feedback.
What’s bad about it? Only a few books get a lot of publicity (most of them American) and there’s not enough YA shelf space in bookshops, so it’s hard for people to find out about your books.

What are some of your favourite YA books? Are they like yours?
I still remember books from when I was a teenager, especially Judy Blume’s. These days, I enjoy all kinds of YA books, some of them contemporary (like mine) - such as Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton, Crush by Eve Ainsworth, Keren David’s This is Not a Love Story and Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson, or with a historical twist like Rhian Ivory’s The Boy who Drew the Future - and some more dystopian, like Bryony Pierce’s Phoenix Rising series, Emma Pass’s The Fearless and Kerry Drewery’s Cell 7. There is so much good UKYA literature out there.

What’s your favourite novel – if you HAD to choose?
That’s a bit of an impossible one to answer, but a book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman would come close. Each chapter imagines a dream that scientist Albert Einstein had while he was working on his theory of relativity. It’s about time, the universe and everything. I read it many years ago and, subconsciously, it probably inspired When I was Me.

I really loved When I Was Me and thought it was a really interesting premise for a novel. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind it?
Thank you. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came to me, or what the inspiration was (there wasn’t one ‘Eureka!’ moment) but I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of parallel universes, and I studied philosophy at university. It was the 100th anniversary of Kafka’s Metamorphosis last year, and hearing about that coming up might have sparked my imagination. Instead of waking up as a giant insect, why not waking up as a girl, but not the girl you recognise, or were before?

I think the big preoccupation for most teenagers is identity - Who am I? Do I fit in? Where am I going? What’s wrong with me? Why does no-one understand me? – and the idea of a girl waking up and finding herself in another life seemed like a really interesting way of exploring that.

Ella was a very real teenaged character – can you tell me a little about her?
Thank you. Which Ella do you mean? The one in the original universe or the new one she finds herself in? Which is the real Ella? Is either of them the real Ella? Or are they both? And, of course, being in the new universe starts to change the Ella we first meet. That will be very confusing for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet!

Like all my characters, she’s based a little bit on me (I am still a teenager in my head, even if I don’t look it on the outside), and how I felt when I was 17. She is very mixed up and torn between fitting in and being cool and having fun, and being quite studious and wanting to do things/be with people that make her happy. She’s very bright but easily led and she doesn’t have much confidence. Her parents’ divorce has affected her quite badly.

What are you working on now? What does your weekly writing life look like?
I had a baby last year and so my weekly writing life is now very limited. It mostly consists of writing a sentence, then jumping up and shouting ‘No Sidonie, no!’ or ‘Take that out your mouth’ or ‘Don’t go in there!’ I am itching to get on with writing a new book. I have several ideas on the go, so watch this space….

Thank you so much to Hilary and I'll look forward to meeting you at YA Shot!

Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz - Review

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Where did I get it? On NetGalley, so thank you to Harlequin UK

What's it about? Jasmine is Filipino, and a senior in high school who's just won a prestigious scholarship when her parents tell her that they're not in the United States legally - they are undocumented aliens. Jasmine can't accept the scholarship, and she now has to worry that her entire family will be deported from the place she calls home. 

Meanwhile, she meets a boy called Royce, who's dad is a congressman who is anti-immigrant. They start going out, but the course of their relationship doesn't run smoothly by any stretch of the imagination. 

The premise of this novel appealed to me a lot, but I didn't like it very much. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, every little thing that could possibly be seen as different to mainstream American culture is explained as being "Filipino". Like, "That's what we do in our culture". While I believe that most of them were, I didn't think it needed spelling out. Readers will just accept that things are done differently in Jasmine's culture. Secondly, from the very first time Jas meets Royce, she falls madly for him. She meets him to start off with for literally about two minutes, but she LOVES him, she wants to be with him, et cetera. It's so unbelievable. Thirdly, there's far too much telling and not showing, almost like the author is racing through the narrative just to get to the end. 

I feel like the stories of undocumented people (I, like Jasmine, won't call them "illegals" because I don't believe human beings can ever be illegal) like Jas and her family are really important, but I didn't feel this novel lived up to the premise. 

What age range is it for? 13+, it's very tame
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No
Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, obviously Jasmine and her family, and a number of other characters too. In fact, most of the time it's pointed out to prove that most people in America aren't purely white. I actually liked this, I thought it was well done and sensitively. 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? No, Jasmine and Royce make out a couple of times but there's nothing graphic. 
Are drugs mentioned or used? I think marijuana maybe? But nothing stronger.  
Is there any talk of death? Very little
Are there swear words? Very infrequently. 
Would I recommend the book? Not really. I feel sure that there are better novels out there which tell stories like this one. 
How many stars? Four out of ten. 

YA in Ireland

Monday, October 3, 2016

I recently went to Ireland for six days with my friends, and in Galway we went into a bookshop. I of course checked out their children's and teen sections and I wasn't disappointed!

They had a whole section of Irish books, including children's books, fairy tales, and some YA stuff. As it's a hundred years since the Easter Rising there were a number of books about that. I bought this one:

I would probably have bought more, but the exchange rate wasn't great and I would have had to carry them all home, so I just stuck with this one. 

I snapped a couple of photos of the teen section. It looked very similar to those you'd find in Waterstones - how many do you recognise? 

What does your local teen section look like?


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