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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - Review

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Where did I get it? Netgalley. The book is twenty years old but is being republished and I liked the sound of it. Thank you to Hachette Children's Group for granting me access to this book. 

What's it about? Melinda is about to start high school in Syracuse, New York. She used to have friends - Rachel, Nicole, Ivy, some others - but ever since a party at the end of the summer she's been an outcast. Melinda was supposed to be at Rachel's all night, but they snuck out to the party. While there, Melinda was sexually assaulted by an older teenager, so she phoned the police. No one knows why she did it, though, not even her parents, who know nothing about the whole incident and who spend all their time arguing anyway.

Mel manages to make a new friend in her first few weeks of high school. Heather is a new student and is trying out a number of different cliques within the school. Mel also finds a disused janitor's closet that she begins to make her own. She is failing nearly all her subjects, unable to speak or make herself heard, but she likes Art and her art teacher. 

This is in parts a really funny book. I liked Mel's dry sense of humour and how she made herself get through things. I liked how there was some resolution but not in a way that made it feel unrealistic. I think it has aged well for a book that is two decades old, and I think the message about young women being assaulted is absolutely still an important one.

I don't think I've read anything else by Anderson but I would in the future. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No I don't think so 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I think Mel's mental health issues count, yes. She just feels totally stifled, in a way that feels extremely relatable. I thought at first that she was literally mute, but she does speak occasionally. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, trigger warning for assault 

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

Is there any talk of death? I don't think so 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? I wish there had been a little bit more resolution. I wish Mel had confided in someone - a friend, her mum, or a teacher, even her guidance counsellor - but that's probably me as an adult thinking about it. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I had requested four books on Netgalley and was really eager to get to all of them! 

What do I think of the cover? There's a number of covers and they all feature a girl being stopped from speaking and trees, which is a theme in the book, so I like them 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of All the Rage by Courtney Summers. 

How many stars? Six out of ten 

Speak will be re-published in August 2019. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

My Dad Thinks I'm A Boy?! by Sophie Labelle - Review

Thursday, June 27, 2019

I spied this trans positive children's book on Netgalley and requested it immediately. I've read some of Sophie's Assigned Male comic - I backed it on Kickstarter at some point I think - so was intrigued to see this book which is set when Stephie, star of Assigned Male, is around seven years old. The book notes that the doctors thought she was a boy but that as soon as she could speak, Stephie told her parents she was a girl. Her mother Alice accepts this quickly but her dad - from whom her mother is separated - can't.

Stephie likes bugs and books and spaghetti. Her dad thinks she likes wrestling and fishing - but those are things that he likes. He struggles to see who she really is. I really liked how that is placed solely on him, and not on Stephie. Not on the child trying her very best to be who she really is.

I'm so glad to have read this, it was so uplifting and cute. I really hope it gets into the hands of some trans kids! Five out of five.

My Dad Thinks I'm A Boy?! will be published in February 2020 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for a review but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you!

Catcher, Caught by Sarah Collins Honenberger

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle a couple of years ago when it was just 99p as I'd seen it recommended. 

What's it about? Daniel is fifteen at the beginning of the book and has just been diagnosed with leukemia. He lives on a houseboat with his mother and father, who are old hippies, and his younger brother Nick. His older brother Joe is away at college but visits the family a few times. The book is set in Virginia, which I liked. 

Daniel's parents have decided he won't be having any chemotherapy or radiotherapy to try to combat the disease. Their reasons are never really given, but it is obvious that Daniel will die within the year (and I don't think the prognosis is much better for if he had treatment, but it's not obvious). Instead he's being treated with herbal remedies and so on. It becomes obvious in the book that Daniel DOES want treatment, but he at no point argues with his parents about this. He progressively gets iller throughout the book.

His best friend is called Mack, but the two of them grow apart over the course of the book. Mack has his own problems going on. He also has twin new neighbours, twins Meredith and Juliann, and Daniel is interested in Meredith. The two of them start seeing each other - something which was easily the best part of the book for me. 

Daniel is also obsessed with Catcher in the Rye which I haven't read so all the references fell totally flat for me, which didn't help me to love the book. 

I just didn't fully engage with the story, for reasons given below. 

What age range is it for? 14+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? No 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I think Daniel's illness counts as a disability, yes, although it's not really framed that way. Some of the illness stuff is a bit graphic. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes. There's sex and sexual fantasy. The sex is safe, which I really liked. It's not graphic but is a little explicit. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Mentioned, but it's not graphic. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes but not really as much as you'd think. 

Are there swear words? I don't think so, not many if there are. 

What criticisms do I have? Okay so firstly the word "spastic" is used about four times in a pejorative way, eg "I'll just look like a spastic." I understand that this word isn't considered the same in America as it is in Britain, where it's a complete slur and isn't used any more. But I did think that its use had slowed in America and it was now recognised as a slur. This book was published in 2010, which I feel personally is late enough for this word not to be used. I found it horrifying, if I'm honest. 

There's also an instance where someone says they used to be "really fat, like a plus size". Okay sure, that sounds REALLY fat to me. I really think that YA has come on a lot in almost a decade... and I'm glad! 

Would I recommend the book? Not overly. I just didn't think the story was that well told

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was still reading on my tablet while I was away and it was downloaded. 

What do I think of the cover? I actually really like it! I thought it was bright. 

What other books is it like? The romance and cancer aspects reminded me of The Fault In Our Stars. I actually thought the romance was really sweetly done, I'd have liked more of it. 

How many stars? Three out of five. 

Keep Her Close by Erik Therme Blog Tour

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I was offered the opportunity to join in the blog tour for Erik Therme's book Keep Her Close, so please do check out the other stops on the tour to see what they think of the book!

I was intrigued by the premise of this book when I heard it:

Three-year-old Ally was found alone in a parking lot.
She was barefoot and dressed only in a yellow sundress. In the middle of winter.
What kind of person would abandon their daughter?

Fifteen years later and Ally has a new family. 
But her real father has sent her a letter.
And now Ally is missing. 

So at the beginning of the book, Dan and Holly find a little girl in a parking lot by herself. They end up adopting her when police can't find her family. They divorce when Anna is a little bit older, and Holly remarries Steve.

Ally then goes off to college where she lives with a friend. At the beginning of the book she gets a letter, supposedly from her birth father, asking her to meet him. She's quite impulsive and a little immature for her age so although Dan says the letter is probably a crank, she decides to go and meet "Frank" anyway.

Holly and Dan turn up to see her and end up chasing round trying to find her. There's plenty of twists and turns along the way, some of which I found more believable than others. I did like the book, but felt it wasn't altogether long enough and didn't explain things enough in places for me. I liked Ally as a character and felt for her. I liked Dan's character and his choices even though they were sometimes quite stupid. I'm giving this three out of five.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane - Review

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

I got this book via Netgalley, so many thanks to Penguin Random House for pre-approving me for this book. I received an ecopy of the book for review but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This book is really epic - it spans over forty years in time and is quite long. I was reading it when I was away with some friends for a few nights, and I was really glad because it gave me quite a lot of time to concentrate really hard on the story. I had actually previously read the prologue and couldn't get into it, but then I really some good reviews of the book and wanted to give it another go.

Right at the beginning of the book we meet Francis Gleeson. He's an Irish immigrant to America and has just graduated as a cop in New York. He is about to get married to Lena. His partner on the beat is Brian Stanhope, whose wife Anne is also an Irish immigrant.

Brian talks about moving out of the city to Gillam to bring up their kids. Francis thinks this sounds ideal and the two families end up living next to each other in the leafy suburb.

Lena tries to make friends with Anne, but her advances are rebuffed. Anne has a stillborn son. Lena has two daughters, Nat and Sara, and then she and Anne end up pregnant again at the same time. Anne has Peter and a few months later Lena has Kate. The two spend their childhoods together even though the families aren't close.

One night when they're thirteen, they sneak out of the house to meet up. They're starting to fall in love and Peter is determined that they'll get married when they're older. Anne, though, hates Kate and warns Peter to stay away. When they're caught sneaking back in, a violent tragedy occurs meaning that the Stanhopes have to move away from the area.

We then see Kate and Peter as teenagers but then see their lives come back together. We see the next thirty years of the families' lives and everything that encapsulates. There are parts from the point of view of Francis, of Kate, of Peter, and of Anne. There are some time skips which can be a little bit confusing at times, but I got used to it. I loved Kate as a character - I would like to think I'm quite like Kate. I liked Francis a lot, too. It was interesting to read his experiences. Anne is mentally ill, and I think this was handled really well, showing why she made the decisions she did. And Peter was an absolute survivor. You could have written a whole novel just about him, but I'm glad everyone else was involved too.

It's a great book, really epic in scope and written in a really good way. I'll definitely read something else by Mary Beth Keane. I'm giving this five out of five.

Ask Again, Yes will be published on 8th August 2019.

The (Other) F Word, edited by Angie Manfredi - Review

Sunday, June 16, 2019

I got this book on Netgalley so thank you to Abrams Kids Books for giving me the chance to review this book. I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for a review but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that Angie is a friend of mine. I first met her on Xanga way back in 2004 via a mutual friend. I got into Young Adult literature because of Angie - she kept talking about the LGBTQ+ literature she was reading, including the Rainbow Boys trilogy. I loved them and over the years got more and more into YA literature. I still love contemporary stuff, and you know how much I like LGBTQ+ YA. Angie is a librarian and is passionately devoted to raising up diverse, marginalised, and under represented voices. She's also fat, and also one of my fat heroes - seeing her wear exactly what she wanted so many years ago inspired me to do the same! (If you're wondering the kinds of things I wear, my lifestyle/fashion blog is here).

So suffice to say, I can't be entirely objective about the book because I like Angie so much! I have followed her tweeting about this book for months and was really excited to read it. I've seen Angie's excitement as proof copies arrived and I've read with anticipation about the people whose essays she has included in the anthology. I suddenly thought last week that it might be on Netgalley so requested it and was so pleased when my request was granted.

I started reading straight away which felt right given that I've just read Sofie Hagen's book and she's another of my fat heroes. I've been reading a lot on my tablet recently, I'm not sure why! I liked some of the essays more than others, but that's always the case when you read an anthology. There were pieces by authors of colour, by trans authors, by queer authors. There has obviously been a lot of thought over who to include, something that I know will have been done with a lot of thought and attention.

I loved Alex Gino's essay. I loved Lily Andersen's too, having recently read her book. I liked P S Kaguya's essay about self acceptance. I thought Hillary Monahan's essay on fatness and the horror genre was really interesting and bang on, I would love to read more about this. I liked Bruce Strugell's essay which was in part about creating Chubstr and about being a fat man, which is something that we don't often read about. I liked Miguel M Morales' poems and was glad poetry was included in the book. And finally I really loved Amy Spalding's essay on Hairspray. This isn't to say I didn't like the rest, but these were the pieces that stood out to me.

I'm so happy that this anthology exists and is aimed at fat teenagers in particular, but all teenagers in fact. I hope it does marvellously. I'm giving it eight out of ten!

The (Other) F Word will be published on 24th September 2019.

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen - Review

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Gosh I barely know where to start with this book except to say that I loved it and found it very moving. I got an e copy on Netgalley so thank you very much to Harper Collins UK for the chance to read this book. I was given an electronic copy of this book in exchange for a review but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So I'm already a big fan of comedian Sofie Hagen. I first heard of her a few years ago and heard her talking about fatness. I too am a fat woman and am quite political about that, so a lot of what Sofie said resonated with me. I also really like her stuff about the Westlife fanfic she used to write - it's so funny, I think it's on BBC iPlayer if you want to see it. I saw her perform Dead Baby Frog last year in LEeds with my partner and BFF and met her afterwards which was really nice. So when I saw she was touring again this year I booked tickets again for the three of us.

We went to Leeds last week to see her. In the first part she did her show Bubblewrap and in the second part she talked about her book Happy Fat. She was selling it afterwards and signing it, but I couldn't justify the expense as I'm really trying to cut down on buying books. So I left without, but then thought I'd look on Netgalley to see if I could request it, and I could!

Feeling all fired up from seeing Sofie I immediately started reading it. I loved it. It's part memoir, part manifesto, part revolution. It talks about Sofie's own history with her body, and her path to self acceptance through fat acceptance and positivity. Everything is well researched and backed up with plenty of footnotes, in case you want to undertake further research of your own. There are chapters on clothes, on fat sex, on why diets don't work, and interspersed are interviews with other fat activists like Stephanie Yeboah and Kivan Bay. Sofie talks a lot about her privilege as a white woman in the book, so the interviews tend to be with people less privileged whether by race or gender or something else. I really felt like Sofie had done a good job in raising voices that may sometimes be ignored and in acknowledging her own privilege within the movement.

Now for me, as someone who has been on a journey in fat acceptance and fat activism for around a decade, there wasn't actually much that I didn't know within the book. But that doesn't mean I didn't find it really enriching, empowering, and moving. Plus just really entertaining! Sofie has a way with words that meant I skipped through the book happily. I do think that for someone stuck in a cycle of self-loathing, this would be a really useful book and would hopefully help them to see that problem isn't their body but that a lot of people are trying to make money off people loathing themselves and trying to be something that they're not. I would recommend for anyone to read it - fat or thin - and see whether they can change their mindset a little. You've nothing to lose, I promise.

I would still love a paper copy of this book, so will probably treat myself at some point. I'm giving this ten out of ten. Brilliant.

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie - Review

Sunday, June 9, 2019

I was at a conference in April (I like saying that because it makes me sound so academic!) about fan studies and someone mentioned this graphic novel. I liked the sound of it so ordered it. I don't often read graphic novels. I find that the illustrations go over my head at times - I read the words and don't understand what the picture is trying to add to that. But I thought I would give this one a go!

So the premise is that Laura, a mixed race teenager from London, who meets some of the Pantheon, a group of twelve gods who come back to earth every ninety years, then die within two years. She meets Luci, aka Lucifer, who comes up against Cassandra, who is trying to discover the truth about the Pantheon. All kinds of stuff starts to happen that Laura has to make sense of.

I spent a lot of time looking at the art trying to really take it in. I liked the nods to pop music - Luci clearly looks a bit like David Bowie and one of the gods has a definite Rihanna vibe to her - and I also really liked the pages where the artwork wasn't just in cells but took over the whole page. Paying more attention really did add to my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

I'm still not sure graphic novels are for me but I did enjoy reading this and have passed it to Lee to read. I've giving it four out of five.

Outside by Sarah Ann Juckes - Review

Thursday, June 6, 2019

I was granted access to this book on Netgalley, so thank you to Penguin Random House Children's for the chance to read this book. I was given an e copy of this book in exchange for a review, but was not otherwise compensated for this post.

I was intrigued by the premise to this book when I was browsing Netgalley. Ele has spent her whole life confined to Inside. Inside her Tower she lives with the Others; Cow, Queenie, and Bee. Until not too long ago she lived with her brother Zeb, too. They are kept confined by Him. He comes every week and sexually abuses Ele (which isn't graphically described in the book, but is obvious).

By the time we meet Ele Zeb has died. He taught Ele about the Outside, he had proofs that Outside existed. Ele reminds herself of those proofs all the time. Then one day the Outside starts pouring into the Tower and Ele knows that the time has come for her to escape.

I found this a compelling book, so I read it quickly. I liked Ele's simplistic language and liked how she made sense of the world around her. I liked the world she found on the Outside, I liked the people she met and how she healed. I thought the end was good. I had guessed one of the twists but thought it came about really well, so I liked it. I would have liked a little bit more resolution at the end, but as it was still from Ele's point of view it makes sense as to why there wasn't more.

I think this is an accomplished book and the world was really well imagined. I'd definitely read something else by the author. I'm giving it eight out of ten.

Birthday by Meredith Russo - Review

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Where did I get it? I had it on pre-order because I loved If I Was Your Girl so much and had also heard really amazing things about this book. I picked it up straight away because I was so looking forward to reading it. 

What's it about? Okay so Morgan and Eric have been friends literally since they were born - one September night during a freak snow storm in the same hospital in Thebes, Tennessee. Their families have always been close and they always spend their birthday together. In the book we see them on their birthday at age 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. 

At the beginning of the book Morgan has just lost her mum to cancer and shortly afterwards quit the school football team even though she was a star player. Her dad is the football coach and now seems disappointed that Morgan, who he thinks is his son, has quit. Morgan is pretty sure that she is trans, that she's really a girl, but she can't find the words to say it. 

Eric, meanwhile, lives in a pretty dysfunctional family where his parents row a lot. His older brother Isaac is off playing college football, and his dad, Carson, is a nasty bully who is angry because middle brother Peyton had to drop out of football. He likes music (I loved this fact, as someone hugely also into music) and just really maybe isn't that into football.

On their 13th birthday Morgan tries to tell Eric that she's trans but can't. Over the next few birthdays we see their relationship disintegrate. Morgan disappears into herself a lot, having her first kiss with a girl called Jasmine, who thinks she's a gay boy. Eric finds a girlfriend. Morgan suffers a lot of homophobic bullying and Eric sometimes stands up for her and sometimes not. Somehow they always manage to come together on their birthdays.

At one point Morgan decides to go back to football. We see the team lose a game and then Morgan gets into a fight. Eric later saves her and it's a huge turning point in the book.

I do want to say that it has a happy ending. I don't think that's too much of a spoiler, and I do think that trans people deserve to see lots of happy endings for trans characters in books and I was really glad myself because the middle is very hard going and I felt so sad. 

Even thought I live in the UK where high school football isn't a thing, I like this background because it feels so cloying and claustrophobic and because it's obvious that for a kid like Eric, playing college football might be the only way he gets to leave Thebes and get away from his family. I think that's a universal concept regardless of football/sports. 

I absolutely loved both main characters. I think they're so soft with each other even when it's difficult and even when the other is being nasty. I loved how they each tried to navigate really difficult feelings for each other. I would've liked more, in parts, more explanation of what happened after a given birthday, but I understand that that wasn't the way the book was written and I liked how I had to fill in some of the blanks for myself. 

I cannot wait to see what Meredith writes next. I know she's written about trans girls so far, in two different ways, but I also think she has a fantastic way with words and can narrate a character's inner voice so beautifully. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. 

What age range is it for? I'm going to say 13+, since that's the age of the characters at the beginning. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously! I will warn for homophobic and transphobic bullying and violence. 

Are any main characters people of colour? They're not main characters, but there are a couple of Mexican-Americans who also have slurs and bullying thrown their way. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No. 

Is there any sex stuff? A little bit; it's not graphic. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? A little bit

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is graphic, so be careful. 

Are there swear words? A few 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none - I would've just liked a longer book but that's hardly the book's fault!

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just so desperate to read it!

What do I think of the cover? This is a new question on my blog! I saw a thread on Twitter which explained why praising covers and their authors is a good thing. So here I go: I think this is a really lovely cover - we get an idea of both Eric's and Morgan's characters, and it shows their equal importance within the book. 

What other books is it like? It is like If I Was Your Girl, but it also reminded me of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit which has the same small town feel, and I'm sure something else which had a lot of stuff about high school football but which I can't find now. Sorry!

How many stars? Five out of five. 

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

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson - Review

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Where did I get it? I ordered it a few weeks ago. I'd read the first couple of chapters in a sampler a few months ago and wanted to order the book as I was intrigued. I love chapter samplers for this reason! 

What's it about? It's set in the UK just outside of London somewhere, in a small place called Little Kilton. Five years ago, a teenager called Andie Bell went missing, and a few days later her boyfriend Salil Singh was found hanging from a tree in the woods. The police found a "confession" text from him and her blood under his nails, so they closed the case, deciding Sal had killed Andy before killing himself, even though her body was never found.

However, our heroine Pip doesn't believe it. She is now herself seventeen, and has decided to look into Andie Bell's disappearance as part of a final project for one of her A levels. She starts off by speaking to Sal's brother Ravi, who is initially a bit hostile towards her but eventually gets on side to try to discover the truth.

The book has narrative parts, and then transcripts of interviews with Andie and Sal's friends, family, acquaintances, and then Pip writing her report, working out her thoughts. I found the structure a bit difficult to begin with, but soon found that the book sucked me in so much that I was desperate to keep reading. It is an excellent book with plenty of twists and turns and surprises. I couldn't guess what happened right up until the end. I thought Pip did some really stupid things, but they made perfect sense within the book and I probably would've done the same! 

I really liked the book and can't wait to see what Holly writes next!

What age range is it for? 14+, if it's your kind of thing

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Pip's best friend is gay, but it isn't really part of the story

Are any main characters people of colour? Sal and Ravi and their parents are, and this is part of how their neighbours have reacted to them after Sal's death. Pip's stepdad is black, too, which again isn't a huge storyline but I liked him a lot! I liked their relationship. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No I don't think so. 

Is there any sex stuff? No. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, including date rape drugs, so be careful with yourself there. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is violent, and there's talk of suicide too. Oh and I'm going to give a trigger warning for pet death, I was genuinely shocked at that part. 

Are there swear words? Very few. 

What criticisms do I have? Honestly, not many at all. I wish we had seen more of Pip's friend group of Cara, Lauren, and the boys, as I thought they were quite cute. I also found it a bit jarring to begin with when the structure changed, but that wasn't the case once I got into the book. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely!

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'd been seeing so many people raving about it on Twitter so I thought I'd get to it quickly!

What other books is it like? It is a lot like some adult crime fiction, which I liked - it didn't feel dumbed down in the slightest. 

How many stars? Five out of five!

Where is the book going now? I'll keep it for sure, but I might lend it out too. 


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