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And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard - Review

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Where did I get it? I bought it. I'm researching, broadly, for my own writing, abortion in literature. I'm writing some things on the subject so I wanted to see what others had written. I read an article with some recommendations and this was one of them. I ordered about seven books I think? 

What's it about? Well, Emily Beam has just arrived at Amherst School for Girls, where poet Emily Dickinson was a student, in the town where she lived. Emily Beam lies to her new classmates about where she's been. The book is set in 1995, and what happened at the end of 1994 was that Emily's boyfriend, Paul, killed himself with a gun in the library of their school. 

I started off the book thinking it was about a school shooting; I didn't realise Paul had killed only himself and not taken people out with him. Then it turns out that Emily was pregnant, and had broken up with Paul, telling him she was going to have an abortion. Through flashbacks (which are really deftly woven in, I liked them) throughout the book, we see what happened between Emily and Paul.

Meanwhile, Emily writes poetry. Encouraged by her French teacher (who I really liked) and her growing friendship with her roommate K.T, we see Emily write all her experiences into poems. 

To begin with I didn't understand why the book was set in 1995, I didn't get why, if it was written in 2014, it was set so far in the past, especially as the events of the book really could have happened in 2014. However, I think it was a good choice because it does mean that smartphones didn't exist and therefore Emily can go more incognito. In 2014, if a girl joined your school and you didn't know her history, you could probably find out everything about her within about ten minutes thanks to social media. I liked this aspect once I thought about it (but I do think you could write a similar book set in 2014). 

I really liked the book - I liked Emily as a person, as well as most of the supporting characters. I liked how clear she was about the fact she wanted an abortion. She was encouraged by her parents, it's true, but I certainly didn't get the vibe that it was something she was being forced into. We don't see much of the actual abortion itself, it's certainly not graphic. I would have liked to see more of life within the school, but it's not overly important in the scheme of things. I liked Emily's poems and how we learnt more about her through them. I liked the inclusion of the stuff around Emily Dickinson and learning more about her life - I know almost nothing about her but I'd like to read some of her poetry. I am glad I read this book. 

What age range is it for? I'm going to say 15+ for sensitive content and gun violence. (Although Paul's death itself is not described graphically)

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I'd say Emily has some PTSD going on, which explains some of her actions, but it isn't explicit. 

Is there any sex stuff? A little, although it's not graphic. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, as I said, Paul's death isn't described explicitly, but Emily thinks a lot about his death and his body. 

Are there swear words? No. 

What criticisms do I have? Honestly very few. I would have liked to see more of the school life, but that's because I love stories about boarding schools. I would love to read Jenny's other book - I may have to purchase it! 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? As I said I'm trying to do this research, and I wanted a short book to get through before my holiday on Saturday! 

What other books is it like? Hmmm, it reminded me of something but I can't quite put my finger on it. Something like older LGBT books, like Annie on My Mind maybe? I think it's setting and tone. 

How many stars? Five out of five. Lovely book - a difficult story but really empathetically told. 

Where is the book going now? I will definitely keep it!

24 Stories of Hope for Survivors - edited by Kathy Burke

Monday, June 18, 2018

I got this book on Unbound, the publisher where you pledge for books and if they get 100% funding they get published. There's a lot of non-fiction stuff on there and also a lot of stuff by marginalised authors, so I love to support stuff. I've got three things I've funded that are still being funded or being published, but I really like it when things drop through my letter box!

So when I first saw this project come up for funding, I backed it straight away. It was set up in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy last June to help survivors of the tragedy. Kathy Burke, writer and comedian, signed on to edit the book almost straight away. 24 stories were chosen from 250 entries, and the authors include well known authors like Irvine Welsh, Christopher Brookmyre, and Meera Syal, as well as new and emerging authors. As a backer of the book, I got my name printed in the back of the book, which feels really lovely to me :)

The book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I promised myself I would pick it up immediately, on the anniversary of the fire. It arrived earlier for backers; it was published generally on the anniversary of the fire itself.

Like all short story collections, there are stories I really liked and ones I didn't like so much. There are stories of wildly different lengths in, too, so that some are only a couple of pages long and others are longer. Some of the really short ones were the ones I liked best and really wanted to hear more of! They encompass a wide range of subjects, although there are a couple that are about the Grenfell fire itself. I liked these a lot, especially the one about the 19 year old immigrant who lived there.

Some of the stories I didn't like that much, but at least they were only short!

In all I would recommend the collection, I'm giving it 3.5 stars out of five.

Skylarks by Karen Gregory - Review

Friday, June 15, 2018

Where did I get it? The library! I joined a Needles and Pins craft group a few weeks ago which meets every Monday morning for a couple of hours. It's mostly retired women, but there's a nice mix of knitters, crocheters, and people sewing, so I've been enjoying it. To get to it I walk through the children's section of the library, and on my way out last week I noticed this on the "New books" stand. I was the first person to check it out but I really hope I'm not the last. 

What's it about? Joni Cooper is seventeen and at college. She works at the local library. Her family is pretty poor - they struggle for money, especially because her dad can't work, and juggle which bills they're going to pay each month. Her older brother Jamie works at a local pub, where he's friends with someone who says that the estate they live on is going to be sold and everyone will lose their homes. 

Meanwhile, a girl called Annabel starts to work at the library. Her dad is a big funder of the library, and she's extremely well off. She goes to a private school and lives in a big house. Joni is convinced that they have absolutely nothing in common and that Annabel will just mess up everything at work, but there is a spark between them. Joni is already out as gay, but she doesn't know how Annabel feels, and the two start getting closer.

I did see a few of the twists coming in this book, although like I always say, that's because I'm 34 and have read lots of books before. A teenager may not read things the same way I did. I liked the political stuff, I thought it was very well done and easy to understand. I liked the ending, because it wasn't completely happy, and that is how life is - good things happen and bad things happen and you have to cope with that. 

I LOVED Joni's family. I loved that she was both queer and working class - intersectionality exists! I liked Joni - she did daft things at times but they were often easy to understand. I liked how the family tried their best but weren't always right in what they did - but they loved each other enough to get through stuff. 

I liked Annabel, although I would have liked to know more about her. I thought the story skimmed over some stuff that I would have liked to see. It's a simple story and I would have liked a tiny bit more depth, but I appreciate that there's only so much space in one book. 

I liked all the stuff set on the South Downs and I liked the stuff about birds and about freedom. This is something that's quite often used in US YA literature but almost never in UK books, so I really liked that. 

What age range is it for? Anything from 14+ I would think

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep, Joni is gay. And Annabel is some kind of something. I actually wish this had been done differently - Joni just seemed to assume Annabel was also gay, and, well, bisexuality exists?! I would have liked more discussion of this and more nuance, but it didn't detract from the book that much for me. 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Joni's dad is suffering from a bad back and there's a lot of stuff about his pain, and also about people's misconceptions about disability and about benefit "scroungers". I liked this aspect a lot. 

Is there any sex stuff? There is a little, it's not explicit 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There's some mention of prescription painkillers but that's all. 

Is there any talk of death? No 

Are there swear words? No, I don't think so? Certainly not many if there are. 

What criticisms do I have? I did think it was too simple in parts, and I would have liked some kind of outspoken statement about Annabel's sexuality. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely yes. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Because it needs to go back to the library so I don't incur fines! 

What other books is it like? It has a feel of Sara Barnard's books to it to me. I have Countless also by Karen Gregory and I'd be interested to see if it's similar to this. 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library on Monday!

The Island At the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave - Review

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

This book is this month's choice for my online book club so once I'd finished the Mitford Murders I decided I'd get started on this. It only took me two days to read because I was enjoying it so much! I loved it, I can't wait to discuss it on Skype and see what everyone else thought.

I've not read anything else by Kiran, although I own The Girl of Ink and Stars and I meet her at YALC in 2016 (I think?) and she signed it. I thought she was really lovely! I think I'll read The Girl of Ink and Stars sooner rather than later because I want to see what it's like compared to this.

Okay, so the story. The protagonist is Amihan, who was born on Culion, a leper colony in the Philippines. Her nanay (mother) has leprosy, and was brought to the island aged eighteen, pregnant with Ami. They have lived happily together along with others who are both Touched (have leprosy) and Untouched (don't have leprosy). They don't use the words leper or leprosy, believing them to be taboo words.

One day Mr Zamora arrives on the island. He works for the government and he has new rules. Firstly, the adults will be divided into Leproso and Sano (clean), and forced to live in separate towns on the island. Secondly, all Untouched children under the age of eighteen will be taken to a nearby island to live in an orphanage. For the first time in her life, Ami will have to leave her nanay.

This is a very sweet book, filled with rich description of the islands, of the wildlife, of even the fruit they eat. It is a pretty typical quest story, but it is told in a really lovely new way. I loved Ami and her mother, and I liked Ami's friends and found family. It reads like a fairy story and would, I think, be suitable for anyone from aged ten upwards. I gobbled this up!

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellows - Review

Saturday, June 9, 2018

I had to read this book for my in real life book club, and I wasn't really looking forward to it when it arrived. It wasn't that the story was offputting, but the book is HUGE - 400 pages - and hardback, which I find hard to hold and unwieldy to read in bed. But I thought I'd start it anyway and see how I got on. I ended up really liking it - it is a compelling story and I liked the historical aspects. I liked it so much that I've preordered the next in the series! All the books are somehow related to the Mitford sisters although I'm not sure to what extent.

Anyway, this story concerns Louisa, who grew up in the East End. At the beginning of the book, it is 1920, and Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of the famous nurse, is murdered on a train. Louisa is, the same day, being forced on to a train by her uncle Stephen to help him pay off some debts. She escapes, and meets railway policeman Guy. Guy has to rush off to help Florence's case, but he and Louisa stay in touch. 

Meanwhile, Louisa travels to Asthall Manor, where the Mitfords live, to take up an offered position as a nursery maid. Aged eighteen, she is close in age to Nancy Mitford, who is sixteen, and the two girls become close, or as close as they can be. They visit a ball together without permission, and on escaping meet an officer recently returned from WWI, Roland Lucknor. Nancy strikes up a friendship with him, hoping for me, but Louisa is mistrustful of him. She is also living in fear of her uncle Stephen turning up to ruin her new job. 

Guy, meanwhile, can't give up thinking about the Florence Shore case and is determined to find out who killed her, even if that means risking his job while he does it. Nancy Mitford reads about the case and becomes interested, especially as their nanny's twin sister knew Florence. She and Louisa are also needling at the case and as expected, all the threads come together at the end of the book. 

It is a bit predictable in places and a bit outlandish in others, but I thought it was a fun read. Nancy Mitford is an incorrigible character but I couldn't help but like her. Louisa and Guy are both likeable protagonists, so I found it easy to read about them. 

I'm giving this four stars and as I say I've already ordered the next one!


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