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YALC At Home 2020

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The last weekend in July should have been YALC, which is usually held as part of London Comic Con. I've been a couple of times, but wasn't planning to go in 2020 as it's really quite inaccesible to me. I can't walk very far, I get easily overstimulated, and accommodation in London is often really expensive. That's why I've preferred to go to Northern YA Lit Fest as it's so much better for me in many ways. 

But then of course Covid-19 happened, and YALC and the comic con got cancelled. YALC decided to have YALC At Home over the same weekend. There was a really helpful spreadsheet and the time was really packed - there was stuff to be doing for three whole days! Some stuff needed prior registration, and there was stuff happening on Twitter, Instagram, Zoom, and more. I signed up for a few panels on Saturday and Sunday. I mentioned that it was YALC to my friend Lucinda, who is a children's librarian and with whom I often swap books and recommendations. She's been to YALC a bunch of times, but thought she had missed the online one when working the previous weekend. She was pleased to find out she hadn't, so signed up for some of the same panels as me. 

On Saturday morning I got up bright and early to watch The Horror Panel with Melinda Salisbury and Katherine Foxfield, and chaired by P M Freestone. It was really interesting; I don't read much horror but I liked hearing about how each author built tension. Melinda's new book Hold Back the Tide was just 83p on Kindle so I bought it. 

Next I watched a panel on Runaway YA, books starring a runaway in one way or another. Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt, Patrice Lawrence, Amelia Mandeville, and Chloe Heuch were on this panel, and it was really lovely to hear all of them. I was cross-stitching while I was watching, and messaging Lucinda on WhatsApp, which were both nice. Lucinda and I both felt like we were together watching the panels, so it was a good way to hang out. I believe Lucinda was doing chores around the house and then crocheting. 

Watching panels even from home turns out to be as exhausting as watching them in person, so I had a little break after that and had some lunch and watched some other things. I clocked back into YALC at 2pm for the Romance panel. Now, there was a clash with the Supernatural panel, which I also wanted to see, but I'd seen on Twitter that the Walker Books panels were being recorded and would be available to watch later, so I watched the other one live instead. I also passed this information on to Lucinda, who joined me in the Romance one. 

The authors in that one were Simon James Green, Leah Johnson, Chloe Seager, and Katy Birchall. It was a really funny panel and although I wouldn't say I am a romance fan I liked the stories in a lot of these books and I agreed with points made about queering the tropes that we have seen a million times. 

The Romance panel with (top left clockwise) Simon James Green, Chloe Seager, Katy Birchall, and Leah Johnson)

At 4pm Lucinda persuaded me to watch a panel on spin offs, which she wanted to see because Sarah Rees-Brennan was on the panel and Lucinda likes her. I knew next to nothing about the spin offs, but I enjoyed the panel and listening to the authors talk about how they work alongside canon to write their books. I asked a question in this panel, which was really easy to do in the Zoom meetings, which was excellent. 

After that, I logged off for the day and watched a film with my partner instead.

On Sunday there wasn't anything I fancied, so it was 4pm before I started. But I settled down with my cross stitch, messaging Lucinda again, for Feminist YA with Lucy Cuthew, Holly Bourne, Kate Weston, Nikita Gill, and Anna James. There were some interesting books mentioned here, which I will have to check out. I didn't stay in this panel for the Q&A, which is something I would absolutely do in person, too. YALC can be really hard and I'm not good at sitting still for a long time at the best of times. In most of the panels, it's very easy to sneak out if you need to. 

Between 5pm and 6pm I watched a couple of video clips that had been put up, including Lisa Williamson reading part of her new novel First Day of My Life. It sounds good, I think I'll pre order it (and then forget about it, like I always do). 

At 6pm the last panel was with American authors! Clearly due to the time difference this was difficult to do, but it was fantastic to hear Neal Shusterman, Angie Thomas, Maggie Tokuda Hall, Patrick Ness, and Katherine Webber. They were all talking about their new books, all of which I want to buy immediately. It was a really fun and funny end to the panels. 

Lastly, at 7.30 Non Pratt held a quiz on YouTube. Lucinda and I made a team, and we did pretty okay! It was really fun. 

So! I had a really good weekend and I'm really glad that YALC made this happen. It was accessible for me as a disabled and autistic person when in person conferences aren't always accessible for me anymore. The technology was easy to use and worked well. The mixture of panels and panellists was great and a person with more brain bandwidth than me could probably have watched stuff ALL weekend and not got bored. It was nice to watch things with my friend so we could discuss what we'd seen together. 

If YALC can go ahead next year, I would really love it if they could do some kind of hybrid event where they could livestream panels and people like me could watch from home at the same time. The technology exists, and participants could still pay for tickets, only less than the in person ones, obviously. I really hope it's something that the organisers think about. It's the kind of thing that a post-Covid world needs to get on board with. Here's hoping!

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales - Review

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Where did I get it? My partner bought it for me a few weeks ago as a gift. I had asked for it as I had had it recommended alongside Autoboyography

What's it about? It's sort of a modern retelling of Grease. Ollie has spent the summer at a lake house in North Carolina, where he met Will. The two of them got together and promised at the end of the summer that they would stay in touch, even though Ollie is from California way on the other side of the country. 

But then Ollie and his parents move to North Carolina. They were there over the summer because it's where Ollie's aunt Linda and her family live. Linda is sick with cancer and needed some help, and still does, so Ollie's parents are moving for at least a year. Which is Ollie's senior year of high school.

So he starts at his new school and immediately meets Juliette, who introduces him to her best friends, Niamh and Lara. Niamh is sweet but Lara is kind of a bitch. Ollie mentions that he's had a summer fling with a boy called Will and, you guessed it, it turns out he is the school's star basketball player. Ollie knew that Will was still closeted, but he isn't expecting the reaction he gets at a party in the first week, when Will totally ignores him. 

The basketball boys and Ollie and the girls do hang out. Darnell is desperate to go out with Niamh, and Michael and Lara are kind of flirty. But they tease Will about Ollie in a really homophobic way. Ollie ends up joining a band (which I LOVED!) but then he and Will get close again.

Aunt Linda and her husband and kids take up a lot of Ollie's time and there were bits here that I thought were really fanficcy and I switched on whether I liked those bits or not. I get that Will is closeted but he also really doesn't stick up for Ollie and is terrified of being thought gay by association, which annoyed me. 

The first half of the book really dragged for me. It's a quick easy read but I just couldn't get into it. But then it sort of changed and I felt like Ollie was a lot less passive. He settled into friendship with the girls which helped. I did feel like the timeline was confusing - there's a dance that I'm sure they said was after Christmas, but there's no mention of Christmas whatsoever? Not even a line. So that was weird. 

If I was judging on the first half of the book I would have scored it lower, but it did redeem itself somewhat in the second half and I enjoyed it. I liked Ollie's friendships and the girls are SO FIERCE, I loved them. I would LOVE a second book starring those girls. But I did feel it had its problems. 

What age range is it for? I'd say from 15 upwards. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Ollie is gay and his family knows that and accepts it. There's some excellent bisexual representation too, which I won't go into because it would spoil the story, but I really liked it. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Will is Venezualan so has brown skin, but that's not mentioned much. Juliette and Niamh are both black. The high school in general seemed pretty diverse. I don't know if that's true of North Carolina, but I appreciated it within the book. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No, although maybe Linda's cancer would count there. It's not too big a part of the book. 

Is there any sex stuff? No, it's very not graphic. I actually felt like Ollie was a bit nonsexual at times. There are very brief flashbacks to Ollie and Will at the lake falling in love but it's not sexual. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No I don't think so. There's some alcohol use, which I really liked to see on page. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes. It's done really well, but may be upsetting. 

Are there swear words? Yes! I actually really liked this. There's a few examples of 'fuck' and 'fucking'. They're really natural, I loved them 

What criticisms do I have? I think I've mentioned them above. I wanted to love this a lot more, but the first half really went slow for me. I also felt like we didn't really understand why Ollie liked Will so much for a while, which made it hard to care about Ollie's feelings or about Will in general. He really does act like a dick and I struggled to see his side. Even though Ollie does!

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if this kind of book is your jam, or if you like the sound of it from the premise

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It was one of the twenty books hanging round down the side of my bed which I am trying to get to ASAP!

What do I think of the cover? I like it. Sorry for the rubbish photo - I took it in very early morning light and it shows!

What other books is it like? It's like Autoboyography in parts, I think. 

How many stars? Four out of five. It redeemed itself from three.  

Where is the book going now? I will probably keep it. 

Sorry if this post looks weird. Blogger have changed their interface and it is very confusing to use. I keep these questions in a Word document and I think copying them across might have broken the formatting. I'm sorry!

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes - Review

Saturday, August 22, 2020

This book was the book club choice for August. My friend Caroline chose it; she and I often have similar taste in books so I thought this would be good, but I was also a little apprehensive because I've never read Jojo Moyes before and I didn't like the premise of Me Before You. I went into this knowing literally nothing about it, and I think that really helped. 

The book is set in Eastern Kentucky in the late 1930s. Alice is an Englishwoman who is firmly middle class, who met a man in England who was travelling with his father (and maybe a pastor? I'm a little unclear there). Bennett Van Cleve is the only son of Geoff Van Cleve, who owns a mine in Baileyville. Alice has been a little disgraced in her family and is convinced that marrying Bennett will be the right idea. She travels back to America with father and son, and tries to settle into the family home. Bennett's mother is dead but all her things are still in the house and both men speak of her very reverentially. 

Alice tries to get on with Bennett, but he pushes her away sexually and she is left feeling rejected. At a town meeting, Mrs Brady announces that a new library will be opened in the town, which will take library books to people living high up the mountains, with "packhorse librarians" taking the books. Alice volunteers for a job, much to the disgust of Bennett and his father. 

The head librarian is a woman called Margery O'Hare. The O'Hares are notorious around the area thanks to their drunken and violent ways and the fact they were moonshiners - people who made an illegal living from distilling their own alcohol. Margery, however, was abused by her father, and is nothing like the rest of her family. However, she is a little unconventional - she lives alone with her dog, but has been in a relationship with Sven, who is a fireman at the mine. He wants them to get married, but she's unwilling to be tied to any man. She is not 'ladylike' and is not scared to protect those she loves very fiercely.

The other librarians are Beth and Izzy, who is Mrs Brady's own daughter. Alice goes riding and soon makes friends on her rounds, bringing books to people who couldn't otherwise access them and who, in some cases, are new to reading.

It's a tough life, nature is cruel and times are hard. Nothing improves between Bennett and Alice and around Christmas of 1937 everything falls apart. Alice and Margery are the main narrators of the book and I liked them both very much. 

I did find the book very compelling and easy to read. I wanted to know what would happen next and I dearly wished for all the men to get their comeuppances and for Alice to find happiness. I loved the mountain people encountered. I felt that the ending was very happy and maybe a little overly so, but I was willing to forgive it as I had enjoyed everything that had led up to it. I am giving this five out of five because I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi - Review

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

I saw this book on Netgalley and was intrigued, so I requested it. Thank you so much to 4th Estate for granting me the access to read this. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Let me give you the blurb of this book from Netgalley:

From a god-fearing Muslim boy enraptured with their mother, to a vocal, queer drag queen estranged from their family, this is a heart-breaking and hilarious memoir about the author’s fight to be true to themself.
My name is Amrou Al-Kadhi – by day. By night, I am Glamrou, an empowered, fearless and acerbic drag queen who wears seven-inch heels and says the things that nobody else dares to.
Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, it didn’t take long for me to realise I was different. When I was ten years old, I announced to my family that I was in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. The resultant fallout might best be described as something like the Iraqi version of Jerry Springer: The Opera. And that was just the beginning.
This is the story of how I got from there to here: about my teenage obsession with marine biology, and how fluid aquatic life helped me understand my non-binary gender identity; about my two-year scholarship at Eton college, during which I wondered if I could forge a new identity as a British aristocrat (spoiler alert: it didn’t work); about discovering the transformative powers of drag while at university (and how I very nearly lost my mind after I left); and about how, after years of rage towards it, I finally began to understand Islam in a new, queer way.
Most of all, this is a book about my mother. It’s the journey of how we lost and found each other, about forgiveness, understanding, hope – and the life-long search for belonging.

I haven't heard of Amrou or their drag alter ego, Glamrou, but I was intrigued to read the memoir of a queer person of colour, especially one who grew up in the middle east. I read this book really quickly, it's very compelling and isn't very long. Amrou grew up in the middle east and realised early on that they were not straight. This was squashed by the family, leading to Amrou becoming obsessed with getting perfect grades at school. These OCD tendencies were described in a beautiful and painful way, which I liked reading. I loved the parts about Amrou's fish tanks.

At sixteen they went to Eton, and tried desperately to fit in there, mostly by squashing their Muslim and Iraqi heritage and trying to be like the white boys. There, Amrou had their first sexual experiences, some of which sound really sad and awful. Amrou then went to Cambridge, and there found drag, and a queer family, and began to settle into themselves.

The parts where Amrou was estranged from their parents really got to me, they're told amazingly but I could feel the hurt behind every word. This is a really honest memoir and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am giving it four out of five.

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett - Review

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Where did I get it? I bought it. I'd seen people talking about in on Twitter, so I bought it on eBay because I liked the sound of it. 

What's it about? Simone is seventeen years old and lives in San Francisco with her two dads. She is HIV positive and has been since she was born, as her mother had the virus. Adopted by her dads because they have lost friends to Aids, she had to leave her last school because her HIV status was outed by her friend Sarah. 

She's now in school closer to home, and has made two close friends, Claudia and Lydia. She is directing the school musical, Rent. She's pretty obsessed with musicals. She has a crush on one of the crew, Miles. She wants to tell her friends that she is HIV positive, but she's fearful because of what happened last time.

She wants to get more information on how she can have sex with less risk, but her dads are super embarrassing and accompany her to all her medical appointments. She and Miles start dating - and he is SUPER cute and a definite YA hero - but then she starts getting threatening notes saying that someone will out her HIV status if she carries on dating Miles. 

The book is a really bouncy, happy, uplifting book. Part of that is Simone's character - she's irrepressible and I really liked that. I loved her obssession with musicals as I also love musicals. I loved her friendship with Claudia and Lydia. I loved her family. I had a couple of issues with the book BUT for the most part they were just because I'm an adult and that's fine - it's not a book for me. 

There's lots to learn about HIV in a really clear manner and I hope the book helps to dispel some misconceptions about the virus and about people living with it, but it's not done in a preachy way at all. I thought it was good!

What age range is it for? 14+, for a mature fourteen year old, for sure. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Of course! Simone's dads, Dad and Pops, are gay. Claudia is lesbian and asexual and in a relationship with Emma (who I don't think we ever meet). Lydia is bisexual. Simone isn't entirely sure of her identity, which is part of the book. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes. Simone is black. Her Pops is, too. Her Dad is Hispanic. Miles is black too. I don't think Claudia is white but I'm not sure I picked up what her background was. 

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

Is there any sex stuff? Yes. There's a lot of talk about it, because of Simon's HIV status. There's some sexual activity, which is a little graphic, but in keeping with the book. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Illegal ones, no. Simone talks a little about her HIV medication, but it's not graphic. 

Is there any talk of death? Not overly. 

Are there swear words? A couple. 

What criticisms do I have? I'm not going to criticise it because I liked it. I do wish sometimes that teenagers in YA novels would turn to teachers or their parents more. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It arrived and was down the side of the bed so I picked it up! 

What do I think of the cover? It's adorable! I loved how it shows Simone's afro. 

What other books is it like? Err. It reminded me a little of Jackpot by Nic Stone, but I can't explain why 

How many stars? Four out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I'm actually going to send it to a friend of mine because I think she'll enjoy it :) 

The Guest List by Lucy Foley - Review

Thursday, August 13, 2020

I got this book through Netgalley, so thank you so much to Harper Collins UK for granting me access to the book. I read The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley at the end of last year and enjoyed it, even though I felt every character was terrible and I had very little sympathy for any of them. So when this popped up on Netgalley I thought I would like to read it.

I posted the photo of the front cover on my instagram, like I do with all books I'm reading. My friend Janet, who has really similar taste in books to me, said "I enjoyed this mainly because I hated every character so much I was hoping they'd die 😂", which was exactly how I felt about The Hunting Party, so I felt this boded well for the book! 

It's set on a very remote island off the coast of Galway in Ireland, where everyone is arriving for the wedding of Jules and Will. The novel is told from the points of view of several guests at the wedding. Through them we see the day and night before, the day of the wedding itself, and then what happens at the reception. Interspersed are small parts where a body has been found at the reception, and the ushers go off to find the body and whoever else might be outside. 

Hannah is the first narrator. She's on the boat on the way over with her husband Charlie. He is Jules' best friend, her "best man", something which Hannah is quite jealous of. She and Charlie have their problems, but she's hoping to have a bit of a filthy weekend away to rejuvenate things. However, something happened to Charlie on the stag do, and his behaviour turns quite nasty throughout the book. 

The second narrator is Jules, the bride. She's the editor of a popular lifestyle magazine. She is quite a cold fish throughout the book, I struggled to warm to her or care what happened to her. She was brought up in a chaotic household by her actor mother Araminta, and is basically estranged from her dad, who is now on his fifth wife and has new small children. She also has a younger stepsister, Olivia, who got a better childhood and who Jules seems to hate. Everything has to be perfect for Jules; she's got a list of demands a mile long for her wedding planner, and no expense has been spared for the whole thing. 

Olivia is nineteen and has dropped out of uni because she's had a really bad time. She's still depressed and self-harming, and is struggling to care about the wedding. She confides in Hannah, who turns out to be a friend she desperately needs. I liked Olivia - I wanted her to succeed and I could imagine her character very well. 

Aoife is the wedding planner. She owns the remote island and has a family connection to it. She isn't featured very much but through her we see the guests at a more detached angle. I didn't dislike her, but I didn't particularly like her storyline, either. 

Finally is Johnno, Will's best man. The two of them went to a public school together in England and have been friends ever since. However, there are dark secrets there which neither Johnno nor Will want exposing. Johnno is a bit of a loser - he's lost yet another job and is trying to launch a bespoke whiskey business. However, things unravel quickly for him throughout the book.

Will is kind of famous - he does a survival show called Survive the Night and fancies himself as quite a survivalist. His ushers are also men he knew from school, and they are the absolute worst kind of posh boy that I love to hate and like to read about. They are all terrible humans and I could understand why all the women involved got very fed up with them. I could picture them perfectly. 

I did guess some of the twists throughout the book but this didn't diminish from my enjoyment of them. I didn't see others coming, which was good. I liked the ending and I loved the setting - I could imagine the wild Atlantic storm coming in very easily. I'm giving this four out of five as I found it really compelling to read. 

I will say that I find it strange how Foley's books are marketed - they're pure thrillers and that's fine, so I don't understand why they're marketed as if they're some kind of high brow literature. Sure, they may be a little more complex than some mass market thrillers, but it doesn't necessarily make them better. It's okay to read thrillers and just want a basic whodunnit! It's okay to write them, too! I think there's a lot of unnecessary snobbery around thrillers, and I feel like Foley's books like to think of themselves as a cut above, and I don't get it. I'm not blaming the author herself there at all, it's the marketing of course... but it's okay to just want to read and enjoy thrillers. Which these are. 

The Guest List was published on 20th February 2020. I was given a free electronic copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo - Review

Monday, August 10, 2020

Where did I get it? I bought it from Waterstones a couple of months ago when I did a huge order, it was one of the books I actually meant to buy instead of just picked up by browsing! 

What's it about? It's told in free verse, like Elizabeth's book The Poet X. It is about sisters Yahaira and Camino. They don't know that the other exists, but they have the same dad. Usually, he lives in New York City with Yahaira and her mum, but every summer he goes back to the Dominican Republic, where he's from, to see Camino. He spends three months there, over Camino's birthday, and arrives back in NYC in time for Yahaira's birthday in September.

So at the beginning of the book, their Papi sets off on a plane from NYC, and Camino goes to the airport to meet him. However, there she finds that the plane crashed soon after take off, into the ocean, and there are no survivors. Camino is now an orphan, as her mother died when she was only six, and she is looked after by her Tia, her mother's sister. 

Camino lives in a barrio in the Dominican Republic, but thanks to her dad sending money to her, she and her aunt have had a better life than some of their neighbours. They live in a two bedroomed house that is fenced in against intruders, and they don't usually struggle for food. Camino goes to a private school and wants to go to America to study to be a doctor at Columbia University. She believes her dad has been trying to get her to America, but she doesn't know about his wife and other child. Not that her dad is dead, the protections he paid for are no longer valid, and there's a creepy guy called El Cero who keeps following Camino everywhere. 

Yahaira is at school when she is called to the office and her mother breaks the news that her father has died. Her mother absolutely goes to pieces in the wake of his death. She decides that Papi's body will be taken back to the Dominican Republic for burial, but that neither she nor Yahaira will attend the funeral. Yahaira is gay, and in a relationship with her neighbour, Dre. Dre is black, and a gardener - she grows herbs on the fire escape of their building in Morningside Heights. I would have liked to see more of Yahaira's life in general, as I feel like there was lots of Camino's but less of hers. But that's my only criticism. 

The two girls deal with their grief for their father and learn about each other and eventually meet. 

I read a thing maybe on Twitter a few weeks back from Elizabeth herself I think which talked about the fact that her books always have happy endings and how she deliberately writes them that way because marginalised kids deserve to see kids like themselves get the happy endings. That made a lot of sense to me and it's something I try to write myself. So I knew Clap When You Land had a happy ending and I loved knowing that going into it - it made it a really positive and special book. Elizabeth has such a lightness of touch with her words. I genuinely think she's one of the best YA authors around. 

What age range is it for? I think it's quite open at the lower end, so I'd say from twelve years old for some twelve year olds. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Yahaira and Dre are. I would have liked to see a bit more of them, Dre was so lovely. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Obviously! I liked learning more about the Dominican Republic and people who live there, it's not something I'm very familiar with at all. 

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

Is there any sex stuff? A tiny bit, there is some sexual violence too. 

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

Is there any talk of death? Yes. It is a little graphic, as obviously Papi has died in horrible circumstances. However, I am very sensitive to deaths like this and drowning especially, and I didn't think it was too horrific. 

Are there swear words? Yes, used very judiciously. 

What criticisms do I have? Only what I've mentioned above. 

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I knew I wanted to get to it soon. 

What do I think of the cover? It's gorgeous. It has both girls on it. There's quite a bit in the book about how similar looking they are and how they look like their dad, and I think the cover really reflects that. 

What other books is it like? It reminded me of One by Sarah Crossan

How many stars? Ten out of ten, it's a gorgeous, gorgeous book 

Where is the book going now? Oh I'll keep this!

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen - Review

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Where did I get it? I picked up this proof copy at Northern YA Lit Fest two years ago. I had read Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen previously and had enjoyed it, so I picked this up. Then recently I was in the "library" (aka my back bedroom, which is tiny and holds a bed and 800 books) and noticed it, so I thought I'd pull it out to read. 

What's it about? Felix is almost thirteen years old and lives in Vancouver with his mum, Astrid (who he calls Astrid). At the beginning of the novel, Felix is talking to a police officer, so it's obvious something terrible has happened. He goes back over the previous four months of his and Astrid's lives. 

Astrid lost her job and they were evicted from an apartment, and then she broke up with her boyfriend Abelard and he was going travelling in India, so Astrid takes his camper van and she and Felix end up living in it. She swears it's temporary until she gets a new job. They hear about a French immersion programme at a nearby school, so Astrid lies and puts an address in the catchment area so that Felix can get a place in the programme. His dad, Daniel, is half French and half Haitian, so Felix is keen to learn French. On his first day at school he meets up with Dylan, a friend of his from a previous school that he has lost touch with thanks to his and Astrid's many moves. The two quickly become friends again, and also end up reluctantly becoming friends with a girl called Winnie, who is bossy and opinionated and very good at French. 

Astrid swears the van is just temporary, but time ticks on, and the weather gets colder, and Felix is really sick of washing in park toilets and never having clean laundry. Then there comes an opportunity for him to go on a kids' game show and win $25,000 which would be enough for the two of them to find an apartment for good!

There's loads more in the book, I've really simplified it there. Astrid struggles to find work, struggles with her mental health. Felix avoids the van and spends loads of time at Dylan's house. He avoids telling anyone where he lives because then social services will get involved, and Astrid had a bad experience with them as a kid herself, thanks to her abusive father. She is resistant to asking for help and ends up shoplifting sometimes. Felix is a kid falling through the cracks and I loved him and wanted only the best for him. 

What age range is it for? 12 onwards I'm going to say 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Felix's dad Daniel, although not a main character really, is gay. There are some other queer characters around too. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yep, Felix is mixed race! Astrid's background is Swedish and Daniel, as I said, is half French and half Haitian. Winnie has Asian background, but I can't remember where her parents are from without looking. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Astrid has mental health problems which I thought were really well portrayed, and also the fact that she couldn't afford to buy her medication at one point. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Only the prescription meds Astrid takes

Is there any talk of death? Yeah, it's a little graphic but appropriate for the age 

Are there swear words? Not really 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! This is a very perfect middle grade book showing an all too realistic story about poverty 

Would I recommend the book? Yes definitely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I just remembered how much I wanted to read it when I saw it! 

What do I think of the cover? Well I have a proof copy with no cover, but my librarian friend says she's bought Susin's books because of their covers, so I guess they're good! 

What other books is it like? It's like her other books, I think 

How many stars? Ten out of ten

Where is the book going now? Oh I'm keeping it for sure!  

No Fixed Address was published in September 2018 by Andersen Press. I was given a free copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

The Blackhouse by Peter May - Review

Monday, August 3, 2020

This book was our July choice for my book club, an unusual choice as we don't often read crime novels. Our leader Ceri chose it, and I hope she enjoyed it as she doesn't often enjoy the choices. I liked it, it's a pretty standard crime thriller, but I haven't read anything by Peter May before and would read something else by him. 

The book is set on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland. Detective Fin Macleod grew up there, but now lives in Edinburgh. Just prior to the start of the book, he has lost his 8 year old son, Robbie, and his marriage to Mona is falling apart. He is called back to Lewis because a man has been murdered there, and the murder bears a resemblance to one in Edinburgh Fin is working on. 

The man murdered was Angel Macritchie, someone Fin grew up with and who was a horrible bully at school. He has no shortage of enemies on the island, including a local religious minister, Donald, and Fin's childhood best friend, Artuir. Fin starts to investigate. He hasn't been back on the island in eighteen years, and memories and childhood traumas begin to rise up in Fin. 

Interspersed with this narrative are parts told from Fin's point of view, telling the reader about his childhood on the island. These parts skip backwards and forwards in time which I found sometimes confusing and sometimes just irritating, but it does kind of make sense why because of how it reveals things to us. I found these parts quite moving, especially the parts where Fin is bullied, and the bits about the old Gaelic language and ways of life, which I found interesting too. 

At school for the first time Fin meets Marshaili, a girl who he ends up infatuated with for the rest of his childhood and time on the island. I really liked her and would have liked more interaction with her in the modern narrative with Fin back on the island. Artuir's father, Mr Macinnes, tutored Fin in order to get Fin good exam results and off to Glasgow to go to university. In Fin's last summer on the island, he is invited to go along with eleven other men to An Sgeir, where the inhabitants of the village of Ness go to cull baby gannets which are eaten as delicacies on the island. This bit was so well done - I could picture the rock perfectly and it was extremely creepy and used the setting brilliantly.

I thought the ending was a bit of a let down. I would have liked more hints about the twist throughout the book, and I felt like the denoument wasn't long enough. I also didn't really like Fin very much. I thought that the stuff about him having lost his son just a month before didn't ring true - it felt like it was longer ago and like Fin had dealt with it, rather than him being still mired in grief. 

I'm giving this three and a half out of five. I didn't hate it, and it'll be an interesting discussion later in July with my book club, but I didn't love it either.

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