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Unboxed by Non Pratt - Review

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Where did I get it? I bought it for myself a couple of years ago, I'm guessing not long after it came out. I was perusing the bookshelves the other night and picked it out. I wanted something short to read and this was perfect. It's one of those dyslexia friendly books, printed on thick paper, and it isn't too long. It's more of a novella really. 

What's it about? Alix is eighteen and has just got in touch with three old friends, Zara, Ben, and Dean. The four of them were a little gang when they were thirteen, along with their friend Millie, and they buried a time capsule together to be opened later. Later is now, because Millie has died of stomach cancer, and one of her dying wishes was for the others to open the time capsule. 

The other four lost touch after the summer they made the time capsule, although Millie tried to keep in touch with them all, meaning that they're seeing each other for the first time after five years. Each of them has a secret; Alix's is the fact that she's gay. The four of them, along with Zara's boyfriend Ash, go to retrieve the time capsule and then setting about opening it.

It's a very sweet little novella, which is quite emotive, and I was left wanting more, which I think is always good with a novella. I didn't quite understand why Alix had left their school and would have appreciated a couple more paragraphs on this, and I would have maybe liked a little bit more of Millie's personality to come through (which I appreciate is difficult since she's dead), but mostly I thought it was very, very good. 

What age range is it for? 13+, a younger reader would certainly understand the book and probably really like it 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Alix is. Although she's a bit apprehensive about telling her old friends, she's very proud to be who she is. I think her apprehension is understandable - all of us were very different people at thirteen to who we were at eighteen.

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Zara is, and I think Alix may be although it's not overtly stated. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No, I don't think so

Is there any talk of death? A little bit about Millie, but it's not explicit. There's a bit of stuff about Dean's family which includes violence, too 

Are there swear words? If there were I didn't notice 

What criticisms do I have? Only that I would have liked it to be longer and a little more in-depth explanation at times! 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I spotted it on the shelf. It's a really nice cover and like I say it's one of those easy-to-read books, like The Last Days of Archie Maxwell. I think they're really beautiful editions, I would collect more. 

What other books is it like? I think it's got a similar feel to Non's other book Trouble

How many stars? Four out of five

Where is the book going now? I might lend it to my friend Laura, but I'll be keeping it for sure

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn - Review

Thursday, April 26, 2018

This book was a real departure from what I usually read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it surprised me. Someone else chose it for my book club, it was £2.49 on Kindle, I want to go to book club next month, so hey-ho, in for a penny and all that.

It's about Katherine Howard, obviously. She was the fifth wife of Henry VIII, and she was only a teenager when she met him although he was much older. She was eventually beheaded for adultery. This was as much as I knew about her, so I went in kind of blind.

The book is told from the point of view of Catherine Tilney, known as Cat. She meets Kate when they are both wards of the Duchess of Norfolk, at her house in Horsham in Sussex. There are a few girls who are wards, including a few who later become Katherine's ladies in waiting at court. They are pretty much left to their own devices, due to the absence of the duchess. Katherine has a sexual relationship with their older music teacher, Henry Manox, and Cat watches her friend grow absent from her. Then the duchess' household moves to Lambeth, where the girls meet Francis Dereham and his friend Ed.

The novel is dual narrative, because in the present time Kate is queen of England, and Cat is one of her ladies in waiting and is in a relationship with Francis herself. Kate is having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, and Cat is complicit in this and will be seen almost as guilty as Katherine herself. I really liked Cat as a character, I thought we definitely understood a lot of things about her and her feelings towards Kate.

I didn't know how it was going to end, and I really liked the meandering way we got there. I thought the resolution of the book was a little rushed, but I thought the very, very end was absolutely perfect and quite daring.

I met a friend for lunch on Tuesday (and her new baby!) and mentioned I was reading this, as she's very knowledgeable about historical fiction and she even teaches it at Teesside University. She was really pleased that I was enjoying it and we talked a bit about how it is told in modern terms, mostly. The language is very modern, and when there are archaic phrases they are well explained (although I did have to look up what a kirtle was). The reader understands the world of the young girls as they move through Tudor England and understands the love affairs presented. I thought it was really interesting how we never see the king - even though he's one of the main players in this he isn't present on the page at all.

I would definitely read something by the same author as I really liked the accessible way she wrote. I may also try something else in the same genre - Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel or something. Any recommendations would be gratefully received!

While this isn't a YA book, I do think that a teenager interested in the subject matter could very easily read it. It's about teenagers after all, even though their world is very different to ours. There is some sexual matter, but it isn't too graphic and would be suitable for older and more mature teens. There's some talk of contraceptives (which I thought was really interesting, but please don't use half a lemon rind as contraception, kids) and some talk of sexual assault, but like I say, I think it would be okay for older teenagers.

I am giving this five out of five because I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it relatively quickly for me!

Girl Mans Up by M E Girard - Review

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Where did I get it? It was this month's book in my Willoughby Book club subscription, so I have my friend J to thank for it, as she works there and often (maybe even always) selects the books to send to me. (Don't forget you can get 10% off a subscription using my affiliate link)

What's it about? Pen is in her last year at a Catholic high school in Canada (near Toronto I think). At the beginning of the book she's friends with three boys, two of whom are basically total dickheads to her. She dresses like a boy, borrowing shirts off her older brother Johnny and wearing her long hair tied back under a baseball cap. Her friends are Tristan, who is nice, Colby, who behaves like a total dickhead but who has her back when things get difficult with her family, and Garrett, who is barely her friend. The four of them spend a lot of time gaming together, even though Garrett is really mean to Pen and calls her every name under the sun.

When they start school, Colby asks Pen to get rid of an old girlfriend, Olivia, for him, and to talk to a new girl, Blake, for him. But Pen has a crush on Blake herself, and it turns out to be reciprocated. Olivia has some problems and Pen ends up supporting her through them. There's a wedge driving between Pen and her old friends, and she doesn't like it but she isn't sure what to do, especially when she's really enjoying spending time with Blake and Olivia.

Pen's parents are Portugese, and they don't really understand her. While they don't seem to mind that she's gay, they don't like the way she dresses. Her mum thinks she looks like a "punk druggy" and wishes her daughter could be more feminine. They're also quite hard on Johnny, Pen's older brother, who lives in the apartment under the house and who always comes to Pen's rescue. 

There's a lot going on in the book, all of which I thought was great. There are a couple of occasions where I felt like the narrative was confusing, and I would have liked being led a bit more, by the writer, to what I was supposed to be taking from the section. But it is most great. I loved Pen's family, even though they were kind of messed up - I think we need more of this in YA fiction. I loved Pen's developing relationships with Blake and Olivia and I thought there was a lot about feminism and girls standing up for each other and themselves which was really good. 

There's a lot about nerd culture and how girls can fit into that. I really liked the stuff about queerness, too. But, I did think it was a bit odd in places. Lots of the reviews of this book will mention that Pen is genderqueer, and all the way through I kept waiting for when she used that word on herself, but she didn't. Then at the end there was a Q&A with the author in which she talks about that, and I really liked her response. Basically she realises that lots of teens - trans, non binary, queer, all kinds of different identities - had identified with Pen and that that was really great. I agree completely and I can see how a lot of gender non-comforming people would see themselves reflected in her. For me, she's redefining what it means to be a girl to herself, and I liked that a lot. 

What age range is it for? 15+, thanks to some mature themes

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Pen is gay and there's a lot of exploration of queer themes going on. I thought it was a bit odd how she kept saying to Blake that she was a girl and Blake had to be okay with that, even though clearly Blake knew that and liked her as a girl. But that was perhaps part of Pen's own gender exploration and presentation - but if so I would have liked a bit more signposting into that. I loved their relationship actually - Blake veers a little into being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but in the Q&A Giraud acknowledges that and says she wanted their relationship to be something really good against the backdrop of all the rubbish things going on in Pen's life. 

There's some homophobia and a lot of homophobic bullying, so be careful if that will upset you. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Pen's family is Portugese. Her parents speak non-standard English and speak Portugese to each other. Pen understands a lot of the Portugese but doesn't speak it. There's parts too where the Portugese isn't translated - and that's okay. The reader still understands the gist of it. 

There's a lot about family and family expectations, I think the book is a good depiction of immigrant life. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's really sweetly done and isn't graphic. I thought this was a really great addition - it wasn't needed exactly, but I'm glad it was there

Are drugs mentioned or used? There's some marijuana usage 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? A few, they're judiciously used 

What criticisms do I have? Like I said, I think I would have liked more signposting in parts. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely, it's a really good story and I loved Pen as a character and the settings and situations. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was just hanging around my bedroom after it arrived and it appealed to me! 

What other books is it like? Gosh I'm not sure. Maybe some of the family stuff reminded me of Aristotle & Dante

How many stars? Four out of five 

Where is the book going now? Straight on to my LGBT shelf! 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan - Review

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Where did I get it? Now I have to confess that I don't usually have much room for David Levithan. I thought Every Day was horribly fatphobic and that's put me off reading anything else by him. But then two things happened. 

Firstly, I watched the film Pride, which, if you don't know it, is about the group Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners, which was set up in the mid 80s to raise money for striking coal miners. It was started by an activist called Mark Ashton, who died in 1987 of Aids. I've seen the film before, it's one of my favourites, but when I saw the caption at the end saying that Mark had died it made me really sad and it made me think about all the people who died of Aids and all the things they missed out on, and all the things the world missed out on that they could have created had they not died. I was mentioning this to my friend Lucinda, who has just completed her training to be a librarian (yay Cinders!), and she mentioned this book, because it is narrated by a Greek chorus of people who died from Aids. She said she would lend it to me, except her copy has gone walkabouts. Oh well, I thought, I'll look it up at some point.

And then! I had organised an Easter swap between some friends, where each person sent another some chocolate and a couple of gifts. My friend Cath sent me a really lovely package, including this book! I couldn't believe it! She'd enjoyed it recently and thought I'd like it. So I thought I'd pick it up as soon as I'd finished my last book. 

What's it about? As I say, a Greek chorus of dead gay men watch down on the lives of seven young gay men in America. I'm not sure if these teenagers lived in the same vague area of America, but some of them definitely did. Firstly, there's Craig and Harry, who are the titular two boys kissing. They're going to kiss to try to beat the world record for it - by kissing for over thirty two hours. They used to be a couple, but have broken up. They go through hell trying to beat the world record, a part which I found really interesting. They go viral, and loads of people turn up to watch. 

Then there's Neil and Peter. They're a couple, they've been together for about a year, and although they really like each other there's a lot of gaps between them which they're both trying to navigate. Neil's parents know he's gay, but they don't really acknowledge it. I really liked Neil and would have liked more of his story to be included. 

Then, there's Ryan and Avery. They meet at a gay prom and swap numbers, so through the book they're just beginning to get to know each other. One of them has blue hair and one of them has pink hair, and I loved getting to know the beginning of their relationship. It was very sweet. 

Finally, there's Cooper. He spends his time talking online to men, searching for something that he can't ever seem to find. His parents don't know he's gay, and when they find out, he takes off, feeling desperate. 

Then there's the chorus themselves. They tell the reader about their lives, their loves, their deaths, their families, their fears, the hopes they have looking down upon the new generation of gay men, the ones who came after them. I loved this look at people who died in the epidemic as a whole, even while the reader doesn't get to know any of them

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? I mean that is very much the premise of the book. I think all the main characters are gay, not bisexual, but there is a trans character too, who is also gay. I thought this was a good inclusion and a really nice addition to the book. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? It's not really stated, but I am going to give a trigger warning for suicide. 

Is there any sex stuff? No, not explicitly. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. It is explicit in parts. 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, except I found it quite slow in parts. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? As above, I had been reading a lot about the Aids crisis and thinking about all the people we lost.

What other books is it like? It is like some of Levithan's other books, I'm not sure what else though. 

How many stars? Four out of five 

Where is the book going now? It will be a very worthy addition to my LGBTQ shelf!

Love, Simon, the movie: review

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

It's no secret that I loved Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, so when I first heard about the film of it, I knew I would see it in the cinema without any doubt. I also knew I would drag along my two best friends for the ride; they're usually up for seeing films with me. So we made plans to see it the first weekend it was out.

We made a day of it - we met at The Light in Leeds and had a couple of drinks first, before going to the Vue cinema there. We were the oldest people by quite a margin - everyone else was in their teens or early 20s.

I absolutely adored the film. I laughed and I cried, and I want to see it again immediately to pick up on all the things I missed the first time around. I've got a few thoughts, so here goes, although I will try to avoid huge spoilers:

  1. I thought Nick Robinson was perfect as Simon. Not exactly how I'd pictured him, but he was so sweet and played the part perfectly, I really liked him
  2. I liked that Simon's BFF Nick was black in the film, I would have liked more screentime of him actually because I really liked the character
  3. I loved Abby, I liked her in the book but I really adored her in this film. I hope this actress goes far, she deserves to
  4. I ADORED Leah. I was already excited about the sequel book, Leah on the Offbeat, but having seen the film I cannot WAIT to read it. A WHOLE BOOK of Leah is going to be amazing!
  5. I won't spoil who Blue is, but I wish we'd seen more of him on screen, I feel like in the book we got more of a look into his personality which made us like him when we discovered his real identity, and I felt like that was missing a bit in the film
  6. I loved the look of the film, I thought it was really pretty
  7. Simon's bedroom was perfect in every way, I want that teen bedroom right now for myself
  8. I thought the whole thing had a huge feel of The Perks of Being A Wallflower to it. I love both the book and the film versions of that, and I feel the same way about this. Plus there's a lot of similar themes of friendship and feeling like outsiders too
  9. I thought Simon's parents were really well cast and well acted too
  10. It is schmaltzy in parts, especially at the end, but honestly, queer teenagers deserve to see those cheesy romcom types of happy endings reflected on screen
I definitely think the film is a really good adaptation of the book. It retains a lot of the same feel and the same sweetness. I think Nick is a perfect teen comedy hero, and a lot of the supporting cast is absolutely brilliant too. I can't wait to see it again!

20,000 page view giveaway

Sunday, April 8, 2018

My humble little blog recently passed 20,000 page views recently. And this happens to be the 201st post! I started this blog in July 2015 just after I'd been to YALC 2015, as I wanted a place to write all my YA book reviews. I was most of the way through completing my MA in Creative Writing with my specialism being in Writing for Children. I had completed my taught modules and had to write an entire novel, which I completed in January 2016. I wrote a 68,000 word novel about a band, set in West Yorkshire where I'm from. I am still in the process of editing it, but I would dearly love to get it sold and published.

In the time that I've had this blog I've expanded it to include reviews of all the books I read. I've written about all the conferences I've been to. I've written about two of the monthly book subscriptions I've had - one of those posts remains one of my most popular (I'm really high up on the google search for it), and through the other I have an affiliate link. It's still in use - you can get 10% off at the Willoughby Book Club by using my link!

I am passionate about YA literature, especially featuring diverse characters and written by authors whose own experiences are similar to those they're writing about. I have so many great books yet to read, and there are more coming out every week. I love the book community I've found myself in, it is mostly a really positive place to dwell, and there are always chats going on with authors which I really like. I have a spreadsheet and a mobile app detailing all the books I own, a huge task which I never would've done had I not had this blog to think about too.

With that in mind, and to say thank you for all the page views, I'd like to do a giveaway. There are three prizes!

The first prize is two YA books of your choice from, up to the value of £15. You can let me know what you'd like and I'll ship them to you

The second prize is these two YA books:

I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan and The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder

The third prize is this book:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

There are three ways to enter:

1) Leave a comment below telling me a really good YA book you read recently and why you liked it
2) Follow me on Twitter - (@cheaprhyme) - and leave me a comment with your Twitter handle so I can check
3) Retweet my tweet AND be following my account

Doing all three of these things will give you three chances to win!

This giveaway will end on 15th April 2018!

(Please leave your comments separately if entering both ways for ease of counting. Please be sure to leave some method of contacting you in your comment if your profile doesn't include one)

Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard - Review

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Where did I get it? I had it on pre-order as I've enjoyed Sara's previous books so much, so it arrived a few weeks ago. 

What's it about? Eden lives in Kent, with her bio sister Daisy and their adoptive family - Carolyn, Bob, and sister Valerie. Eden is sixteen and about to take her GCSEs. She's woken one Saturday morning to a visit from the police. Her best friend Bonnie has run off with her secret boyfriend, Jack, who Eden had heard about didn't entirely believe was real. Only it turns out that Jack is actually Mr Cohn, a music teacher at Eden and Bonnie's school. Eden lies to police about being in touch with Bonnie as she desperately tries to deal with the fact that her sure and steady best friend has done something completely wild. 

Eden has a boyfriend, Connor, who is really cute and very like the male characters in previous books by Sara. Eden's birth mum is no longer in her life, and Eden struggles to know where her place is in her family. She's also not the most academic of teenagers and is dreading the exams. She loves gardening and is fiercely protective of her little sister. I loved getting to know Eden as a character. I think Sara is really good at writing believable but flawed but also likeable characters. Eden does some stupid things, but we as readers are totally on her side and want her to be okay, I think. 

I liked the side characters a lot, especially Eden's sisters Daisy and Valerie. I found it difficult to get to know Bonnie, but I think this is part of the point, because the Bonnie that Eden know no longer exists, if she did at all. I think this was an excellent example of contemporary YA as a genre - it's exciting, a lot happens, it's well-paced, and there's some really lovely bits to go alongside the really poignant parts. It talks about the grooming of teenagers while never seeming preachy. Really accessible and really, really good. 

What age range is it for? 15+, maybe, although it would depend on the maturity of a younger teenager as to whether they could handle it, I think. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? There's brief mention to Eden and Daisy not being "white enough" but nothing else. I would have liked to see this explored more, perhaps, but I can also see that it wasn't perhaps relevant to the story. 

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

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and I thought it was so well written. It made perfect sense for where it happened in the book, and was really lovely, I was really happy for Eden. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? A tiny bit when talking about Eden's birth mum, but there's nothing too graphic. I thought Eden's relationship with her mum was brilliantly and poignantly done, I liked how conflicted Eden was about it. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? Yes, a few. I loved when Valerie swore late on into the novel because it really got her character over well. 

What criticisms do I have? Honestly, very few. I would have written certain things differently, sure, but I thought this was a really good novel. It didn't focus too much on Bonnie and Mr Cohn, which I felt was right. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely. I think Sara is one of the best UK novelists around at the moment. Her British teens are always so true to life. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Funnily, Lee chose it. I have a spreadsheet of all my books, which Lee also made into an app for me. Whenever a new book arrives it has to be put on the spreadsheet, so there's a pile in the bedroom waiting. I can't add them myself, only Lee can. So the other night when I finished my last book, Lee pulled this out of the pile for me. It was a good choice!

What other books is it like? It's like Sara's other books definitely. 

How many stars? Five out of five, I have basically no criticisms and I stayed up way too late two nights in a row to read it. 

Where is the book going now? I'm keeping it for sure. I hope one day that Sara is at a conference I'm at, because I'd really like my books of hers to be signed!


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