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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue - Review

Friday, December 29, 2017

I bought this book on Kindle in July, because it was cheap and I wanted to read something else by the author. I read Room by Emma years ago, it must've been about 2011. I sobbed my way through it and then immediately lent it to my mother-in-law because I knew she'd like it. I really recommend it, although obviously it needs trigger warnings for abuse, sexual abuse, violence, things like that. 

As for The Wonder, it starts off so differently to Room that to begin with it's hard to believe it's the same author, but by the end I definitely felt like it showed similar kinds of spirit. I want to read more by the author, I'll have to see which of her books appeal to me next. I got some book vouchers for Christmas so maybe that's what I'll buy!

So, this novel starts with English nurse Lib Wright travelling to Ireland. The book is set in the 1850s, just after the Irish potato famine. Lib served in the Crimea under Florence Nightingale, so she's one of the 'newer' types of nurses, upright and rigorous in her nursing. To begin with, I found it hard to warm to Lib, but I liked her by the end of the book. She's going to Ireland as the employee of a committee set up to investigate the case of Anna O'Donnell. Anna is eleven, a devout Catholic, and supposedly hasn't eaten any food for four months. The committee wants to know if she really is a miracle and a wonder.

Lib is at first dead set against the whole thing, and is sure someone must have been secretly feeding Anna. She feels herself to be the only voice of reason - even her nurse colleague is a nun and therefore of the same religion at the rest of the village. She starts to feel something towards Anna, though, and the two end up as friends. 

The beginning of the book is quite slow, but it really worked for the pacing and the whole slow atmosphere of the novel. I really liked it. I guessed a couple of the twists but that didn't detract from the whole. I'm giving this a five out of five because it's excellent.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard - Review

Friday, December 22, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it for myself, I really liked Sara's book Beautiful Broken Things so I bought this one. It's ages ago though, but I've been meaning to get to the book!

What's it about? Stef suffers with acute anxiety and has spent most of her school life silent, a selective mute. That's been okay as she's had best friend Tem with her, but now it's the start of sixth form and Tem has gone to college, while Stef is left at their school. But she's determined to speak, because her parents aren't sure she'll be able to cope with university if she can't.

Then on the first day she meets Rhys, who's deaf. They're introduced because Stef can sign a little bit, and two become friends. They slowly start to fall for each other, and Stef slowly overcomes some of her major obstacles.

I really liked how it was clear that Stef didn't "get over" her illnesses due to her boyfriend or due to the medication she was using, but that both things helped her to feel more confident. I liked the relationship between Stef and Tem, and thought it was a really good portrayal of teenaged friendship with all the good and bad that can have. I liked the relationship between Stef and Rhys, although I did think Rhys was a little bit too perfect at times. I thought the portrayal of Stef's anxiety was really true to life, and I say that as someone who has lived with anxiety for almost twenty years now. I liked the supporting cast too - Rhys' family especially, but Stef's parents, step-parents, and little sister too. It's a really good book!

What age range is it for? 15+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Tem is black. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, of course. I really liked the look into the deaf world, I'd have liked to see more of Rhys' friends actually. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, quite a bit, and it's quite explicit. I thought it was great because Stef was very much like "Is that it?" once she'd done it. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Prescription ones, yes 

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

Are there swear words? No I don't think so? Very few, if there are. 

What criticisms do I have? None, overly. Rhys was a bit too perfect, but Stef loved him, so I sort of forgive her for thinking that. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, oddly, I didn't mean to read it, but I went to the Turkish baths in Harrogate on Monday, and needed to take a paper book to read in there since my tablet might get damaged in the heat. I perused my shelves before I set off and was taken with this one. I read about a quarter of it while relaxing in the baths. 

What other books is it like? The main relationship between Stef and Rhys reminded me very much of Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield. It has hints of Holly Bourne's books too. 

How many stars? Eight and a half out of ten. 

Where is the book going now? I'm keeping it - look at that beautiful pink cover! 

Hello Me, It's you by Hannah Todd (Ed) - Review

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I received this book from the publishers on Netgalley, and was intrigued to read it. It is a collection of letters from young adults, up to 24 years old, writing letters to themselves at 16. There's a particular emphasis on mental health issues, which I have suffered from myself since I was a very young child. I was finally diagnosed with depression when I was fourteen and started on medication and with some counselling. I was further diagnosed with anxiety when I was seventeen, and I have struggled on and off with that ever since. At the moment I'm doing really well and am unmedicated, but I've had a lot of counselling, a lot of medication, and I struggle. I would ask for help again if I needed it, no doubt. 

The book raised money for the charity of the same name, details of which can be found here. It is a really worthwhile cause!

My own mental health history meant that I was really interested to read this book, and I really liked it. A lot of the stories were really touching and often quite difficult to read. It got me thinking about what I would write to myself, even though I am over twice that age. I lost my dad when I was 24, so I think I would warn myself about this, since I would have so few years left with him. I would probably tell myself that even though I still struggle with my mental health, I have a lot more confidence in myself and care less about what other people think about me. I would tell myself to get serious about my writing quicker than I have.

I can't give this book anything less than five out of five, because of the subject matter and because of the open and heartfelt way so many people shared intimate details of their lives. Thank you to all the writers, you are all amazing humans.

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera - Review

Friday, December 15, 2017

Where did I get it? I bought it in February

What's it about? The novel is told from Griffin's point of view and it has a dual narrative. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Theo, Griffin's ex boyfriend, is dead, and Griffin is talking to him on the day of his funeral. He's clearly quite unhappy with Theo, and with Theo's boyfriend Jackson. 

We then flash back in time a couple of years and see the beginning of Griffin and Theo's relationship, from when they tell each other they like each other, to when they have sex, to when they tell their families and the third member of their 'squad', Wade. Through the novel we see what happened between Griffin and Theo that led to Griffin being quite so angry with Theo even when he's dead. In the present day, we see Griffin begin to come to terms with Theo's death. 

I'd heard so much great stuff about this book which is why I bought it for myself, but I didn't feel like it lived up to the hype. Yes, the queer representation was good, and it deserves all the props. The two boys had to come out a number of times and each time it was met positively and with love, which I liked. The sex scenes are done sensitively and protection was mentioned a lot, both of which are things I like to see in YA novels. 

But I just felt like basically everyone in the book acted like a dickhead most of the time. I didn't like it, I didn't like the actions of a lot of the characters. If that was the point of the book - that teenagers are messy and stupid and selfish - then case accomplished, definitely. But that wasn't the hype I'd heard and so I felt very much like I was missing something. There were lovely parts, for sure, but for most of the book I was just thinking "Oh no, don't do that". I felt like the only person who acted with anything like a lot of integrity was Wade, who we don't see much of until near the end of the book. I wanted to love this... But I just didn't. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, as I say above there's a lot of nice comings out and a lot of good discussion about sexuality (although I did feel there was a couple of fleeting bits of biphobia coming from Griffin). 

Are any main characters people of colour? Wade is black, although it's barely mentioned 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Griffin has OCD and it's something he struggles with throughout the novel. I felt like this part was well done. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, as I've said it is nicely done; it isn't explicit but I liked each scene (even when I thought the characters were making the wrong decision in having sex then, if that makes sense!) 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, Theo has died and there is some graphic scenes around how he died. 

Are there swear words? A few, not many. 

What criticisms do I have? I think I've said them all above. 

Would I recommend the book? Honestly, I'm about 50/50 on this one. I have two more of Adam Silvera's book and I don't really feel like picking either of them up because of how I didn't like this one. I probably will give him another chance, but I can't say it will be soon. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just browsing my shelves and picked it up. I do love the cover! 

What other books is it like? Ummmm, I don't know! A lot of LGBTQ+ literature, especially for teens, tends to be really angsty and to focus on coming out and stuff, so I was glad this book didn't do that. 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'll definitely keep it, on my LGBTQ+ shelf! 

No Virgin by Anne Cassidy - Review

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Where did I get it? Netgalley, courtesy of Hot Key Books, so thank you very much to them. 

What's it about? Stacey is seventeen and in her first year of A levels. She lives in Stratford in the East End of London with her mum, her sister Jodie and Jodie's baby Tyler. Her parents are divorced; her dad lives in Shoreditch. Stacey dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She has a best friend, Patrice. Following an argument with her mum and Jodie she stays one night at her dad's flat while he's away. She's planning to go home the next day when she meets Harry.

Harry is posh, from Kensington. He is immediately charming and says he can help Stacey with her fashion career. He invites Stacey to spend the night in a friend's flat and while she is there, she is raped.

The book begins after the rape, and we see Stacey go home and tell Patrice what's happened. Patrice encourages her to report it to the police, but Stacey doesn't feel able to. Instead she writes it all down, which is what we read.

The book is a clear and concise account of what could happen in this situation. Stacey is a likeable character. I liked how the book was laid out, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel, which I won't spoil if you haven't read about it. 

I liked how Stacey's family was pretty poor, too, while Harry's wasn't, and she felt the disconnect between them over that. I am a big fan of working class characters in Young Adult novels. 

I want to say a few things about sexual assault and rape here. Only enthusiastic, freely given consent is consent. Being drunk isn't consent. Being unconscious isn't consent. Staying silent isn't consent. Only yes means yes. If you have been sexually assaulted or raped and would like some support or to speak to someone, I recommend Rape Crisis. What happened isn't your fault, not if you were drunk, not if you were in a relationship with someone, no matter what you were wearing, no matter who you were with. Sexual violence are rape are the fault of perpetrators and rapists alone. It isn't your fault and you're not alone. 

What age range is it for? 15+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, there is description of rape. It is painful to read, so be gentle with yourself. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There are mentions of cannabis use. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Not too many 

What criticisms do I have? Well, almost none. I did really like the book and I read it really quickly. But the beginning annoyed me, because I felt like Stacey was being disparaging towards her sister, who was only fourteen when she had her baby. I felt like Stacey was saying she was a "good" girl and Jodie wasn't. I didn't like this judgement and I wish it hadn't been there. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well, honestly, I am trying to read some of my Netgalley books! I made a list of some I want to read over the next year, and thought there was no time to start like the present! I had seen some buzz about this book and the sequel No Shame, so I started it. 

What other books is it like? I've heard it's like Asking for It by Louise O'Neill, because of the theme of rape, but I haven't actually read that book myself. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

We Are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - Review

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I read this for my book club which is meeting on December 13th, and I can't wait to see what everyone else thinks about it as I think it'll be quite divisive among us! I really enjoyed the book and am giving it four out of five, but I can understand some of the lower rated reviews that I'd seen on Goodreads.

There's a twist to this book which some reviews give away, but I'm not going to. I think some people will guess from the beginning, but I utterly didn't, so when the reveal came on page 77 I was flabbergasted. I'm interested to see how many of my fellow book club members guessed it and whether that had an impact on their enjoyment of the book.

The novel takes place over a long span in the life of Rosemary. At the beginning, we understand she is in her forties, and looking back upon her life. She breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the reader directly. She tells us about her early life when, aged five, she was sent to stay with grandparents for a week. When she returned, it was to a different home, with her mother, father, and brother Lowell, but without her sister Fern. We see her teenaged life, when Lowell had left the family home and the FBI came after him and Rosemary had to deal with her parents alone. We see Rosemary in college miles away from the family home when she meets Harlow, who disrupts her life in lots of ways.

The book has a lot of themes including family, memory, lies, deception, and what it means to be human. Yep, lots of lighthearted things like that!

I thoroughly enjoyed this, I think it's possibly the best book I've read in book club this year! I think next year I'll try to categorise them better on here so I can look them up at the end of the year.


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