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Maximum Pop Samplers Again!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Maximum Pop have again got tons of first chapters from a bunch of books coming out in September free for us to read! I told them that if they carry this on I'll be bankrupt! I went through and read those which appealed to me. Since it's getting close to Christmas I'm trying to hold back on buying books and am instead adding them to a wishlist that I can send to Lee so he can buy some for me. My birthday is just after Christmas too so hopefully this year it'll be books galore!

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart
I read We Were Liars way before I started this blog and honestly, I loved it. I also wanted to throw it out of the window. I couldn't believe the twist. I read it on Kindle so I couldn't flick back easily to see where I'd gone wrong and missed it. I was frustrated but in a good way because I thought it was such a good book and that Cadence was such a brilliant unreliable narrator.
The first chapter of Genuine Fraud is captivating and intriguing. We open in a luxury hotel, where a young woman called Jule is exercising when an American woman, Noa, starts to talk to her. Not usually taken in, Jule feels sorry for her and arranges to meet the woman later on in the bar. Jule introduces herself as Imogen, but it's too late because later she discovers from the barman that Noa was asking about her. Jule makes plans to leave and is immediately running from threat.
It's intriguing and it's already dangerous, and I already don't know which part is truth and which is fiction. I'm definitely adding this to my wishlist.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland
Hmm, this opening chapter is a little bit strange but still quite interesting. Esther is a high school student who wears strange costumes to school and deals brownies to her classmates at lunchtime. On the day we meet her she's dressed in a red cape and she has to get the bus because her mum can't leave the house due to the omen of a cat sitting on her car. At the bus stop she meets Jonah, who she was friends with in elementary school, and who ends up robbing her.
There's an element of humour evident in this first chapter, and an element of fantasy, too (one character is described as having slipped through a gap in reality), both of which grab me even though this isn't my kind of thing at all.

Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zepheniah
I've never read anything by Benjamin Zepheniah although I own a couple of his books, one of poetry and one novel I think. I might even own this; apparently two of his books are being republished this month - Gangsta Rap and Refugee Boy. I like him when I see him on the TV though. Gangsta Rap was first published in 2004.
In this opening chapter, Ray starts the day listening to rap music, argues with his parents, and goes to school, where he's permanently excluded after threatening a teacher. He meets up with his friends Tyrone and Prem and the three of them rap on their way home.
According to the note at the beginning, this novel is partly based on Benjamin's own experiences of school, from which he was also permanently excluded. He also makes points about rap music being street poetry which belongs to everyone and not just to dead white men that I utterly agree with. The narrative is kind of stilted and sort of feels like it definitely belongs in the early 00s, but I'm still interested to read more of Ray's story.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Now, I've got a confession to make: I've never read anything by Lauren James. I've heard loads of buzz about The Next Together series and I even own them, but I've never read them. I'm sorry! I'm sure they're really excellent books.
But this one is already captivating. In the first chapter we learn that a spaceship called The Infinity is on its way to a planet with a high chance of sustaining human life, which will take nearly fifty years. Romy, our heroine, is alone on the ship. She has been alone for five years, since her dad died. Her mum was on the ship too - the two of them chosen by NASA to pilot the ship - but she's also dead. Romy was born on the ship so has never seen the sky or anything. She's now kept company by daily updates from her psychiatrist Molly.
I love the concept of this novel and I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist - but it also terrifies me. The idea of being alone like that is one that I find utterly petrifying. I read a book called Calling B for Butterfly when I was about 17 and I think it scarred me!

The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles
The novel opens at a Leavers' Ball for an art college, which Lux is attending even though she has a year left. She loses her virginity to a fellow student caleld Henry, and we see her toast the evening with her best friends. But there's an undercurrent - Lux as a narrator is looking back on this night as one of the last happy ones and that she is a Lux she no longer recognises. What's happened to her in the meantime? We don't know, but this is a start made to make you want to read more!

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
It's no secret that I love Sarah Crossan. As with her previous novels, this one is told in free verse too. At the beginning, Joe is seven when his brother Ed gets arrested for murder. Ten years later, Ed is on death row in Texas and Joe has gone to try to see him. I'm so interested in where this goes. I'm sure it'll be just as painful as Sarah's previous books!

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
I have History Is All You Left Me by Adam although I haven't read it yet. I've heard loads of buzz about him and his books so I'm excited to see what they're like. The premise of this book is that two young men get phone calls from Death-Cast, telling them they will die today, and make friends on an app that matches people up for their death days. In the opening chapter we meet Mateo, whose mother is dead and whose Dad is in intensive car. He gets the call from Death-Cast and immediately goes into mental meltdown. He makes plans to go and see his best friend, but he doesn't think many people will miss him. This is such an intriguing start to a book.

Water in May by Ismee Williams
Mari is pregnant. She is fifteen and at the beginning of the novel she is making an appointment to see a heart doctor for her baby, and then she goes dancing with her friends and meets up with her boyfriend Bertie. The blurb says that the baby has a fatal heart defect and Mari has to make a difficult choice. I'm definitely interested to read more of this.

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington
I've heard so much about this book already. Ella is fourteen and is living in a concentration camp. The opening chapter sees her trying to get a job in the dressmaking workshop there, altering and making clothes for officers and their families. Apparently this is a really sad book, I will definitely buy it.

No Shame by Anne Cassidy
Stacey has been raped and the trial of her rapist is about to start. The chapter sees her briefly recount what happened and start to worry about the upcoming trial. While the chapter is short is definitely piqued my interest. I am supportive of books where sexual assault has happened.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Oh hey I already read this! You can read my review here.

Phew! This post is much longer than last month's - what do Maximum Pop have in store for us in October I wonder?!

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it, I had it on pre-order. I follow Jen on Twitter and am always excited to read a new book from her. Especially this one as it's about feminism and zines! 

What's it about? Vivian is a junior at high school in East Rockport, Texas, a small town where nothing much happens and where the high school football team rules everyone's social life. Each Friday, the entire town closes for the football game. Vivian usually attends with her friends and her mother and grandparents. 

Viv's mum was a 90s Riot Grrrl, who moved to Portland to find the scene there but had to move back after the death of Viv's dad when Viv was a small child. She keeps a box labelled My Misspent Youth, and Vivian sometimes rifles through it, looking at the zines that her mum made. 

One day, star football player Mitchell Wilson is rude and sexist towards new girl Lucy, and Vivian has had enough of the sexism rampant around the school. From boys saying "make me a sandwich" to them bumping into girls and grabbing them before running off, Vivian is fed up. So she makes a zine called Moxie and leaves it in girls' bathrooms before school one morning. In order for girls to show support, she suggests they should draw hearts and stars on their hands that Friday.

She's thrilled when people do, including Lucy, who she ends up being friends with. Over the next few months Moxie takes on a life of its own and the girls in the school learn how to fight back against the sexism they receive from boys, but also against systemic sexism like arbitrary dress codes. Viv really comes into her own in confidence as Moxie grows.

Meanwhile, her mum has started dating a colleague called John, who happens to be a Republican voter, even though Viv's mum is really liberal. Viv doesn't understand what her mum sees in him and has to try to come to terms with his involvement in her mum's life. There's also a new boy at school, Seth, who Viv has a crush on. She eventually starts a relationship with him, her first ever. Seth knows about Moxie and keeps telling Viv that not all guys are like Mitchell and co. Vivian knows that, but she is frustrated that he just doesn't get it. I actually thought these two things - John and Seth and Viv's reactions to them - were the truest parts of the book. There are parts when Viv and Seth argue and get frustrated and they are so true and real to life. I liked Seth, I loved how real he was while also being a total dish. I would have liked a little bit more resolution to Viv's mum and John's storyline, but it doesn't detract from the novel in total. 

I am a zinester myself. You can buy my zines here if you'd like to! I loved this part of the book. I honestly believe that zines are little political protests and can change the world. I loved how Vivian explained what zines were and was Riot Grrrl was. I am a little bit too young for Riot Grrrl but I of course know about it and like some of the bands. I felt like Jen really expressed the history well for new readers. 

While the novel is simple, it isn't simplistic. There's lots going on and Vivian is really well drawn and an utterly likeable character. 

What age range is it for? Anything from fourteen plus, probably

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, race is mentioned a few times. While Viv is white, there are parts when some of her friends who are other races mention how that intersects with the sexism they face. I thought this was nicely done. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Viv and Seth have a really frank conversation about sex which I thought was perfect without being preachy. There's no sexual activity, though. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? A little about Viv's dad, but not much 

Are there swear words? Yes, quite a few - I actually loved this and thought it was one of the most natural and realistic portrayals of teenagers that I've read recently. Teenagers swear. A lot. 

What criticisms do I have? To begin with I thought Seth was a bit too perfect, a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, but that may be just because Vivian didn't know him very well. I was frustrated by the inactions of the school administrators but this is probably really true to life too. I have very little to criticise! 

Would I recommend the book? Yes with my whole heart! Zines and feminism and badass girls, oh my! 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I really loved Devoted by Jen, so I couldn't wait to read this as soon as it arrived. 

What other books is it like? I only know one other YA book which talks about zines and that's Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger which I read about six years ago. I think Moxie is also quite a lot like Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood in the way it focuses on female friendship. 

How many stars? Four out of five, utterly recommended. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it for sure, but I think my friend Laura would like to read it first as she's also a feminist and a zinester!

Dear Charlie by N D Gomes - Review

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle way back in February and had mostly like forgotten about it, but my friend Stacey read it while she was on holiday and said I should read it, so I did. 

What's it about? Set in 1996, Sam's brother Charlie is infamous. The novel starts at the end of the summer, around the beginning of September. In June, Charlie walked into his and Sam's school in Pembrook with a gun and killed fourteen pupils and teachers, before killing himself. Sam's family is falling apart without Charlie. Sam doesn't know who his brother was or what part he played in Charlie's actions. Their parents blame themselves and each other and are fighting constantly. Sam's life is in pieces; outside, the paparazzi won't leave the family alone and they're ostracised when they leave the house. 

Sam has to go to a different school after being told he was no longer welcome at Pembrook. He starts at Knightsbridge, where people soon make him unwelcome. But he finds friends too, including Dougie, who he thinks is cool, and Izzy, who he has a crush on. 

He writes letters to Charlie as part of the therapy he is undergoing, hence the title of the novel. 

I didn't love this book, although I read it quickly. I felt like Sam was mostly a sympathetic character, although I felt there were parts where he was quite nasty, for example when he commented on the looks of the girls he was hanging out with. It didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the novel and I found it quite jarring.

Also, as a reader, I wanted more exploration into Charlie and his actions. As an adult I can see that not expanding on this makes sense, as a careful author wouldn't want to glamorise what he did. But as a reader, I wanted more! 

I also felt like time tripped in places, and moved on too quickly, whereas in other places things kept getting repeated. I'm sure there would be a lot of repetition from family members in a case like this, but it's not that interesting to read. I was also quite confused about where this book was set. I was expecting it to be American, but it clearly wasn't, but I wasn't sure where in Britain it was set, except that London was "down south". I'm leaning towards Scotland, but I wish the novel had been clearer. But in all, this is an okay book and I'd pick up something by the same author. 

What age range is it for? Fifteen onwards, I think 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No, not that it was mentioned. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Charlie has a mental illness, of course, but it's not explored in much depth or detail. I don't think any trigger warnings would apply. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. It's not graphic, though

Are there swear words? Not many at all.

What criticisms do I have? I think I've outlined them above. I didn't know why the book was set in 1996, except that in 1996 the Dunblane massacre happened, which changed handgun law here in the UK and which remains one of the deadliest shootings here. In this book, Charlie's actions are used as the vehicle for a change in law. 

I also felt like some people could have tried to understand Sam's point of view more, including his parents. He's clearly been through something really traumatic, but no one except his therapist seems to care. I don't really understand pupils reacting badly to him at his new school - it's not his fault! I thought it was a bit odd. 

Each chapter starts with the name of a different song from 1996 and 1997 and as a 90s indie kid myself I liked this part of it, I'd love to listen to a playlist of all the songs! It wasn't always clear if they were relevant to the text though. 

Would I recommend the book? Kind of? I didn't love it but it's not a bad book. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? As I said, Stacey had recommended it - I think she liked it more than I did!

What other books is it like? The parallels with the Columbine massacre made me think of the book She Said Yes, which is about one of the victims there. It also reminded me a lot of Perks of Being A Wallflower, although I'm not sure why! 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

The Lauras by Sara Taylor - Review

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, so thank you to Random House Cornerstone. 

What's it about? Alex is thirteen years old when their mother pulls them out of bed in the middle of the night after a row with their dad, and takes off. Ma has had a bag with both their important documents packed for the whole of Alex's life, and now it's time to use them. As the two make their way through America, sometimes staying overnight and sometimes staying for up to a whole school year, Ma tells Alex about the Lauras, all the friends she made with that name, and plenty of other friends she had along the way too. She had somewhat of a chaotic childhood and throughout the novel we get to know her story. 

Alex is agender, and identifies as neither male nor female. We get to know their sotry too and see them growing up from quite an immature teen to a young adult. For the first half of the novel I didn't feel like I knew Alex well enough and felt like the novel was just a vessel for Ma to tell her stories with a sideline of Alex. However, that changed and by the end I really loved them as a character; I felt like they'd been through a lot of growth and emerged a better person. I really liked the ending, too. 

I kept saying this was a weird book and I stand by that - its narrative structure is unlike almost anything I've read before. But I really enjoyed it. I would definitely read something else by the same author. 

I've seen that this is categorised as an adult novel but I really disagree. I think it is a perfect example of a Young Adult novel, in fact. Both Alex and Ma are teenagers when things happen, and both are really kickass people while things are happening. While there is sexual assault, sexual violence, and a few other nasty things, they're no worse than in some other YA novels - although, of course, take care of yourself for triggers. Definitely one for discerning YA readers and older readers who like YA. 

What age range is it for? As I say, anything from probably fifteen upwards, but do take care of yourself. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes! Alex is agender and I liked how Ma dealt with this too - standing up for Alex when needed. It's relayed in a really lovely way and I liked Alex's inner dialogue about themself too. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Not that it's mentioned.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, as mentioned there's sexual assault and sexual violence, both of which are pretty graphic and could be triggering. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Maybe once?

Is there any talk of death? Very little

Are there swear words? Yes, a few

What criticisms do I have? I felt like there were parts when very little happened and then a lot happened at once, and I felt like some things just got cut off when I would have liked to know more. There is very little to criticise, though. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, very much so. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had seen reviews and knew I wanted to get to it soon. 

What other books is it like? I sort of want to say it's like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, if Chocolat was from Viane's daughter's point of view. It's got that sort of chaotic, moving with the wind, almost magic vibe to it. 

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

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel - Review

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where did I get it? I got it from Hodder & Stoughton from Netgalley, so thank you very much to them 

What's it about? When Lane Roanoake is fifteen years old, her mum, who ran from the Roanoke house when she was sixteen and pregnant with Lane, kills herself in their apartment in New York, leaving Lane all alone. Theirs has not been an easy or happy relationship. Lane doesn't know why Camilla left her family and her small Kansas town, but that's where she finds herself over the summer she turns sixteen, when her grandparents agree to take her. 

Roanoke is a huge ranch miles out of town, with a strange house, inhabited by Allegra, Lane's cousin, daughter of Camilla's sister Eleanor, and Lane and Allegra's grandparents. There is a strange undercurrent in the house. As Allegra says, all the girls either die, or they run. Lane is uncomfortable, but doesn't, at first, know the ugly truth about the family.

Meanwhile, desperate to escape, the girls spend their evenings with Allegra's boyfriend Tommy and his friend Cooper, who Lane starts a relationship with. 

In a dual storyline, set in the present of 2015, Lane is back at Roanoke because Allegra is missing. It is ten years later and Lane has been in California for the past decade, ever since she left Roanoke. She meets Tommy, now married and the local cop, and Cooper, who she starts a relationship with again. She's determined to find out what has happened to Allegra and expose the secrets of Roanoke for good. 

What age range is it for? Adult, totally. This is a disturbing and uncomfortable novel. That isn't to sad it's bad, but it is terrifying in parts. There is rape, abuse, and lots of sex. Take care of yourself. This is a book for adults and discerning readers. 

What criticisms do I have? It was probably just because I was reading a proof copy but the switches between the two time periods were sometimes really confusing. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if this type of thriller is your thing. I feel like this fits nicely into the Gone Girl kind of genre. Those thrillers that are twisty and turny and which keep you turning the page. While I didn't feel like we got a good picture of Lane as a rounded person, I did like her. I liked Cooper a lot too, I think he was a bit of a dish and said all the right things. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just scrolling through my Kindle and started reading it, and then I got hooked and read it really quickly. 

What other books is it like? While it does fit with books like Gone Girl, I think it also has a feel of The Virgin Suicides about it. 

How many stars? Four out of five, Claustrophobic and atmospheric. I would definitely read something else by the same author. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth - Review

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it a couple of weeks ago in Waterstones. I had a gift card from a present in February that I hadn't yet spent, so when I went to Meadowhall to meet a friend a few weeks ago, I bought four books. They were £20.96 in total, so with the gift card I only had to spend 96p! I took a photo of the books I bought:

What's it about? At the beginning of the bookm in the late 80s, Cameron Post is twelve years old when her parents die. They've been at a local (ish) beauty spot that has a history for Cameron's mum when their car leaves the road and they are both killed. Cameron's first feeling is relief - because she's been kissing her friend Irene and now her parents will never know about it. 

Her aunt Ruth, who is a fairly conservative Christian, moves to Montana to look after Cameron along with her grandma. In the second part of the novel, Cameron is fifteen and over one summer, has an intense friendship with Coley Taylor. It turns into something more than friendship. I don't want to say more because I don't want to post spoilers - I hadn't read any before reading the book and it really added to it for me. I felt like every time I started a new chapter I was like "OH GOD WHAT NOW!" and it really went a lot towards my enjoyment of the book.

However, what I will post are trigger warnings. For violence, for self harm, for extreme homophobia, for death, for a lot of painful things happening to queer teenagers. If this sounds like it would hurt you, don't read the book. If you start reading it and it's too painful, don't finish the book. It's okay, I promise. It's an excellent book, but it isn't easy to read. It's hard and difficult and it made me angry. It's all those things and yet it's an important book because it exists in the first place. I'm very glad to have read it. 

What age range is it for? Because of the issues mentioned above, I'm going to say 15+, even though Cameron is younger than that at the start of the novel. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes.

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, but I want to avoid spoilers - but he's one of my favourite characters in the whole book.

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? You know... I'm going to say yes, for mental health things, even though it isn't exactly what I might usually mean when I answer this question.

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's somewhat explicit. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, marijuana quite a lot. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes. Take care of yourself. 

Are there swear words? Yes. 

What criticisms do I have? I don't know why the book was set in the late 80s/early 90s, except that I guess that might be when the author was a teenager herself? I don't know that it added to anything, except it might seem like what happens is historical... When it isn't.
Homophobia still very nuch exists. I don't know; it just sort of jarred me.

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent. I really liked it - that isn't to say I enjoyed all of it, because it is difficult to read. But I want everyone to read it. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'd heard so much about it. It was publishe in the US in 2012, before I was really into YA fiction (I was dabbling my toes - I liked the Hunger Games and other dystopias like that) so I hadn't heard about it then. It came out here this year, so I heard a lot of buzz about it and when I saw it in Waterstones I knew I had to have it. 

What other books is it like? I'm not even going to try to compare it. 

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it, but first I'm going to lend it to my friend Laura. 

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie - Review

Monday, September 4, 2017

Where did I get it? I heard about it at Grrrl Con, where Natalie was a fellow attendee. Her book was published through Unbound, which is a different approach to publishing that seems to really work for people. The book was 99p on Amazon Kindle around the time of the conference, so I bought it. 

What's it about? There are three main story strands to the novel. Firstly, there's Jean, in the 1910s, who works in the Singer factory. The workers there go on strike, causing friction between Jean and her boyfriend Donald, and Jean's dad. Eventually Jean and Donald leave Glasgow for Edinburgh. 

Secondly, there's Connie in the 1950s. Connie is in her 30s and unmarried, and gets a job in the Sewing Room at Edinburgh Infirmary mending sheets and medical uniforms. At home, she and her mum use an old Singer machine and document everything that they make or mend on the machine. Connie lives in a tenement flat in Edinburgh. 

Thirdly, there's Fred. Fred's grandad has just died and Fred is inheriting his tenement flat. Fred has been living in London and is not that nice of a person at the beginning of the novel. He is disdainful of all of his grandad's posessions and wants to get rid of everything. He goes to sell the old Singer machine, but the mechanisms are jammed. When he investigates, he finds the notebooks from Connie and her mother, and begins to piece together the past.

The novel is deftly and cleverly woven together, and to begin with I found the swapping of points of view quite confusing, but once I got to grips with that I began to really enjoy each of the stories. I loved Jean and Connie, and although I initially disliked Fred I soon came to like him too. I enjoyed this novel a lot. 

What age range is it for? While this isn't a YA novel, I do think that an older reader could enjoy it, especially one interested in history and feminism. There's nothing too scandalous in it, although there's some talk of death and stuff like that. Try it if the subject matter appeals!

How many stars? Four out of five. A really good book!


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