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Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson - Review

Sunday, September 30, 2018

When I read about Cat's latest books, both historical books with black male protagonists, I ordered both. I read Freedom back in August, but this was still on pre-order and arrived just before I went on holiday, so I decided to take it on holiday as I had space in the suitcase. I read it in just an hour or so, and really liked it. 

It's one of the Barrington Stoke books with thick pages that are ideal for uncertain or dyslexic readers, and it also has the most gorgeous illustrations in it that I felt really added to the story. 

The story is the true story of Matthew Henson, a black American who went on expeditions to the Arctic Circle for years and years of his life, in search of making it to the North Pole. His endeavours weren't recognised at the time because of his colour, although he has been recognised in more recent years. We learn a bit about his childhood and his early life, and a little bit of his life at sea, and then more about his life in the Arctic and the people he met. My only criticism of this book is that it wasn't long enough! I could have read much more about Matthew's life and I think Cat has such a way of getting across the harsh realities of the lives of people of colour to the younger reader. More of these, please!

The Power by Naomi Alderman - Review

Thursday, September 27, 2018

I read The Power on holiday last week. I'd heard a lot about it because it won a bunch of prizes last year, but I wouldn't necessarily have picked it up by myself. But it was chosen for my book club as October's book so I thought I'd take it on holiday. I actually owned a copy of the book, which I'd received in a subscription box last year, so that was good as it meant I didn't need to buy it!

Anyway, it's basically a science fiction novel. It looks at a time when women awoke the power that was within them, a power to emit electricity from their hands which can inflict pain. It started in teenagers, but they could awaken it in older women. Soon, boys were being segregated in schools for their own safety and girls were being used in war.

The book follows four stories. There's Allie, a kid who has been in and out of the foster system and who is being abused by her adoptive father. She escapes and reinvents herself as a religious prophet. I liked Allie a lot; I think her motives were pure and I liked where she ended up. It would be interesting to read a whole book just from her perspective I think.

There's Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a London gangster, who is extremely powerful and who uses her power chaotically, which I really liked. I liked Roxy's storyline and found it the most heartbreaking. There's Tunde, a man who sees the power just as it is awakening and who then travels all across the world as a journalist, trying to get the next scoop before anyone else can. I didn't like Tunde as a person, I sort of thought he deserved a lot of what happened to him, but I did like the storyline, and I thought it said a lot about the modern world and people who are greedy for the next big story.

And finally there's Margot, who is mayor of a city but who wishes to be governor of the state and who uses the power and everything she can gather to get ahead in her game. I didn't like Margot but I understood her ambition. I also liked the subplots with her daughter Jocelyn, which I won't spoil but which raised a lot of questions around gender in the book.

I liked the "historical" bits which were put in, I thought they were really interesting and added to the world in which the book existed. I liked the concept but just something got a bit lost for me; I felt it rambled a bit and didn't really reach any satisfactory conclusions. I have a feeling my book club is going to hate it - I think it'll have been too violent and possibly too feminist for a lot of them. I'd like to discuss it with someone who 'got' it more than me, because I just wasn't sure about what point it was trying to make. The only thing I came up with was that power corrupts people, all kinds of people, in lots of ways and for lots of reasons. And, well, I kind of knew that before :P

I'm not sorry I read this, but it isn't a favourite. I'm giving it seven out of ten, and one of those points is for the concept alone.

While this isn't a book for teenagers, it is definitely a concept that may appeal, and I think an older, discerning teen could certainly understand and enjoy the book. There's a lot of violence, in parts quite graphic, and some sexual violence too, which is also graphic. I'd say take care of yourself, but as someone who read the Handmaid's Tale at sixteen, I think this is on the same lines, so read it if it appeals!

That's Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger - Review

Monday, September 24, 2018

Where did I get it? Netgalley, thank you very much to Hachette Children's Group for allowing me to review it,

What's it about? It's about the aftermath of a school shooting. At the beginning of the book we meet Leeann, one of six survivors who were caught up in the massacre. Three years ago, Leeann was hiding in a bathroom stall with her best friend Sarah as the gunman roamed the school, and saw Sarah die. 

We meet each of Lee's co survivors. There's Denny, who is blind (and who has a gorgeous service dog Glitter, I loved her!), and who was pulled to safety by his friends who both died. There's Ashley, a fervent Christian who was disabled in the shooting and now uses a wheelchair. There's Eden, whose cousin was killed. There's Miles, who was described as the kind of boy to become a killer himself and who has problems that he keeps close, but who is one of the people Lee turns to when she needs help. There's Lee herself, living with her mum who works two jobs to keep them afloat, and who suffers from PTSD from the shooting. 

And then there's Kellie. She's no longer in their school, because the family was pretty much run out of town. This is because she said something about the shooting that no one believed - but Lee knows that her story is true, and she finally wants to right the wrong that she thinks was done to the story.

She sets about getting each of the survivors to write letters about their experiences and through that we get a totally rounded picture of what happened, as well as what happens to Leeann during her senior year of high school. 

What age range is it for? I'd say from 15+, because of the violence involved. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep. For one thing Leeann is asexual! I really liked this aspect of her and how it was handled - she was pretty secure in herself which I liked. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Denny is black, one of the only black students in the school, I liked how he wrote about this 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, both physically and mentally. I really liked how Lee's PTSD was portrayed, because it rang really true to me as someone who suffers from panic attacks. I thought all of the disabilities were portrayed very sensitively. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so? 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously, and some of it is violent, so be careful if that triggers you. 

Are there swear words? A few, not many 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, I really liked the book, I liked Leeann as a main character and I liked her fellow survivors. I feel like she could have talked to her mum more, but that's a really small part of the book. I thought the way it was written - through letters - was really well done. I haven't read anything else by Kody Keplinger but I definitely would

Would I recommend the book? Yes 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was on holiday and was scrolling through my Kindle! 

What other books is it like? Hmm, I don't know, I'm not sure I can think of any 

How many stars? Eight of ten, I really liked it and thought it was an interesting look at what survivors of something traumatic go through. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post - the Film

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Exactly a year ago I posted my review of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, having loved the book and having found it really painful to read. I knew the film was being made, so all year I've been keeping an eye out for it. I think they had distribution problems or something, but then I heard it was coming out in the UK in September. I asked my partner Lee to come with me and we decided to go out for something to eat first. We took advantage of Lee's 2for1 deals that he got through his car insurance, meaning we got two for one on cinema tickets and on a whole range of restaurants - I chose Chiquitos because I love it! It was a really nice evening out.

Lee hadn't read anything about the film, so it was all totally new to him. I thought that was really good, I think it enhanced his enjoyment a lot. I remembered a lot about the book, but I had read a couple of reviews, one of which mentioned that graphic self harm scene from the book, so I'm glad I was prepared that that was coming.

In the book, Cameron doesn't get sent to God's Promise until about halfway through. We read much more about her life before, and about the girls she has fallen in love with. We understand her a lot, about what makes her tick and what she cares about. We understand Aunt Ruth, even if we don't sympathise with her. I felt like this was lacking a bit in the film. I wish we'd seen more about Cameron as a person. But Lee felt like you did get to know her properly, he felt like she was constantly watching what was happening and you understood that she was beyond all this bullshit quite early on. I've also read a review which concerned Chloe Grace Moretz's acting and which said she was perfect and understated, so that was good and something which I agreed with even though I haven't seen her in anything else. I do wish we'd seen more of Cameron's back story though, including all her scenes at the pool.

I liked Adam, I thought we saw enough of him to really understand him as a person. Forrest Goodluck was perfect, I'm glad they cast him. I didn't feel like we saw enough of Jane to really get what she was about, and Lee agreed. Was the character black in the book? I don't remember that she was, but Sasha Lane was perfect. I wish we'd seen more of the ending of the film, but actually filmwise I think it made perfect sense.

I really liked it; it's very hard hitting and the subject matter still makes me angry (you can't "pray away the gay" and such projects are abusive), but I loved seeing it on the big screen and I'm glad we went.

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown - Review

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Where did I get it? My friend Sarah bought it for me for Christmas, she went to uni with the author I think so thought the book might appeal to me

What's it about? It's about the witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, told from the point of view of his sister, Alice. At the beginning of the book Alice has been living in London with her husband Joseph, but her stepmother has died and Joseph too, so she sets off back to her brother's home in Manningtree in Essex. She is expecting a baby, having lost four previously, so she is taking care of herself and hoping Matthew will give her and her child a home. 

Matthew has bought an inn to live in, and he gives Alice a somewhat cold welcome. She begins to hear rumours of women being accused of witchcraft, including Bridget, her mother in law. Bridget had been a servant in the Hopkins house, but was sent away when Matthew was little, when he crawled into a fire and got badly burnt on his hands and face. Alice sees her mother in law but is soon told not to by Matthew, and Matthew begins his witch hunt across Essex. 

It's a very interesting book, written really accessibly and with a lot of thought behind both Alice's and Matthew's motivations. It's almost a horror, it's got that same uneasy sickness to it where you just know something else terrible lies on the next page. Several parts of the book really shocked me, and I found it quite scary at times too (although i have a very low tolerance). It's an adult novel but I know my friends and I would have loved it at aged sixteen which is why I've chosen to review it like this. It is graphic in parts so be careful, but I do think an older, mature teen would enjoy and probably even relish this book. 

I love historical fiction like this where the author takes a known figure and weaves a history around them. I think it's deftly done here, and is an excellent look into the 1600s, the ethics of the time, and how people probably got whipped into such a frenzy over supposed witches. 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none? I did think it sagged a little bit around the second third, but I still liked it enough to keep reading. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I didn't. I asked my partner to go into the back bedroom slash library and pick me a book. I couldn't decide what I wanted to read so I asked for help!

What other books is it like? I think it's got the same sick feeling to it as the Woman in Black, even though the stories are very different. I liked how at times I wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't, and I didn't know where the story was going

How many stars? Five out of five

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

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens - Review

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Where did I get it? I bought it last year and it's been sitting on my LGBTQ shelf ever since, so when perusing recently I thought I'd pick it up 

What's it about? It's set in a very small town in Kentucky, USA. Billie McCaffrey is seventeen and the daughter of the local preacher, Scott. She drives him crazy by constantly doing things that are considered scandalous in the small town. She has five friends and the six of them call themselves The Hexagon; they are friends of old and are really tight with each other. Right at the beginning of the book they cook a sock in the microwave in the youth room at church and end up setting fire to it. The church deacons are immediately incensed and as penance the Hexagon have to do service for the older people in town. 

Meanwhile, Billie is trying to work herself out. She thinks she's in love with Woods, who is like the charismatic leader of the Hexagon, and always full of good ideas. She has feelings for her best friend Janie Lee, but knows her dad would never approve of a same sex relationship and is scared of finding out what exactly is between her and Janie Lee. She isn't sure how she feels about Davey, who's new to town and who is the grandson of one of the town elders, Tyson Vilmer. 

This is a book about everything - faith, love, friendship, fallibility, belonging, growing up, all of that stuff. I loved it, I thought it just touched on so much stuff and you really loved Billie and the rest of the Hexagon by the end. It made me cry at the end, which almost never happens for me.

I loved Billie - she is spunky, she's sassy, and she's also really lovely and full of faith in her god. I loved the way her faith was portrayed and I loved how she prayed. I liked her parents' characters, even though I didn't agree with them all the time. I liked certain moments she had with each of them a lot.

I like Davey best of her friends, I think. I wanted to know more about his story and his background, so I was glad we got occasional chapters of his point of view. I liked Janie Lee even though she annoyed me at times, and ditto for Woods. Fifty and Mash were the two we got to see the least, and they were kind of the comic relief, but I still liked them and I still understood the friendships they had with Billie. At times, I think all the teenagers acted badly, and I was chewing on this thinking "Oh, they're so bad!" and then I realised they're just flawed like all humans and like all teenagers especially. And that just made me like them more! 

I actually can't gush about this book enough because I really liked it and I think it is an excellent addition to my LGBTQ+ shelf

What age range is it for? I'm going to say from 13/14 onwards, depending on your 13/14 year old 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes and no. Sexuality is discussed often in the book and we see Billie struggle with her own. I'm labelling it as such

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Mash is mixed race

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, but it isn't very graphic 

Are there swear words? Very very few

What criticisms do I have? Almost none. This is one of those books that I wish I'd written; it made me think about how you would write something similar set in Britain. Like I say, nearly all the characters did things I didn't like, but for the most part I understood why they'd done them, and that just adds to the plot anywa

Would I recommend the book? One hundred prcent

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just in the mood for it!

What other books is it like? I think it has a real feel of The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness about it. It's got that small town feel to it, and the teens are definitely Doing Things throughout the whole thing. I also think the friendships between the Hexagon reminded me of the Raven Boys and Blue. Which I obviously love

How many stars? Five out of five, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Where is the book going now? I will most definitely be keeping it. 


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