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Fight Back by A M Dassu - Review

Thursday, June 30, 2022


A M Dassu is my excellent mentor (paid for through Write Mentor) and I previously read her book Boy Everywhere which I reviewed here last year. So when I saw she had a new book I ordered it from Rhyme & Reason in Sheffield, in the spirit of supporting an indie bookshop. It arrived and I picked it up soon after. 

Aaliyah is thirteen and goes to school, she has two best friends, Lisa and Sukhi. She also goes to school with Sami from Boy Everywhere, who hasn't been there very long. She and Lisa and Sukhi manage to get tickets to see 3W, a k-pop band. They go to the gig and have a brilliant time but then on the way out the venue is bombed. None of the girls are injured, but their friend Jo loses her leg. All the girls are obviously traumatised by what they've witnessed.

And straight away Aaliyah begins to experience a ramping up of racist abuse. First it comes from Darren, Lisa's brother, and then from Jayden at school, who appears to get away with it with all the teachers, and then from neighbours and people further afield. She is obviously hurt, and decides to start wearing hijab as an outward symbol of being Muslim. Lisa stops talking to her, though, and her older brother Yusuf is getting into trouble fighting racists. Aaliyah decides it's time to fight back.

This IS a cute middle grade story which made excellent points about racism and I did like Aaliyah and her decision to fight back. I loved the subplot featuring the cat. I liked a lot of it, but it somehow just left me a bit flat. I didn't find it as compelling as Boy Everywhere, which made me sad. I also felt like Aaliyah thought that Sukhi (who is Sikh, although she has lighter skin than Aaliyah) couldn't experience racism which just isn't the truth at all. I had a few problems with it so I'm giving it three out of five, which I do feel a little bad about. 

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout - Review

Sunday, June 26, 2022


This was the June book for my book club and I was intriqued by it, even though I haven't read the first book, My Name is Lucy Barton. I think that might have been a book club choice too, but from a time I couldn't make, so I didn't read it. I liked this one though so I ordered My Name Is... so I can read that too.

So this is a sequel to that book, narrated by Lucy Barton whose second husband David has just died. She and her first husband, a scientist called William, are on friendly terms, and this book is about him. He is a little older than her and married to his third wife. Lucy and William have two children, Becka and Chrissy, who are both in their mid 30s and are married. Chrissy has had a miscarriage. Lucy is close to her daughters. William also has a small child, Bridget, aged ten, to his third wife. 

The book has an odd way of narrating stuff - it flips backwards and forwards in time and also from person to person. Lucy tells us a little about her abusive childhood, but I believe the first book delves into this much more deeply. She tells us more about her somewhat unhappy marriage to William, including his affairs and what led to her leaving and him then marrying his second wife, Joanna. It's told in an odd but compelling way, which kept me reading. 

Right at the beginning Lucy tells us that two things happened to William about a year after Lucy lost David, but it's almost halfway through the book before she tells us what these things are. She ends up on a road trip with William on which he is actually insufferable. I didn't like him at all, but that made him interesting to read about - especially as it's clear that Lucy still does feel some kind of way about him.

I'm giving this four out of five because I liked it a lot. I'll try to read the first one soon!

Home Stretch by Graham Norton - Review

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

 

I have read both of Graham Norton's novels previously and really enjoyed them, so when I realised he had another one out I got it and started it pretty quickly afterwards. I think he's one of the few celebrity authors who can actually write pretty well. He certainly knows how to tell a story and keep you turning the pages. 

Okay so the book is set in county Cork in Ireland, and the first parts are set in 1987. Three families receive the news that their children have died in a car accident. Bernie and David, who were about to get married, are both dead, as is their bridesmaid Carmel. Her sister, Linda, is in a coma and is eventually disabled permanently by the crash. The only two who walked away are Connor and Martin. Connor is the son of the owners of the pub and was driving; he is told in no uncertain terms that he isn't welcome at the funerals. Martin is the son of the town's doctor and is on his way to becoming a doctor too. Connor soon leaves the town, knowing that no one will forgive him.

We next catch up with his sister, Ellen, I think. She ends up married to Martin and has two children with him. They live in the old doctor's house, with lots of old dark furniture that Ellen fails to keep clean to Martin's standard. His mother is dying in a back room. Their marriage is totally loveless and Ellen wishes she could leave but can't. 

We also meet Connor, now an older man and living in New York City. His boyfriend Tim has just split up with him which makes Connor think over his whole life, including his time in Liverpool and London on building sites and how he became estranged from his family. He then meets someone else in NY, but I don't want to give too much away as I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns.

I did guess some of the twists but didn't find this was to the book's detriment. It's a lot about queer culture and the progression of it over the last thirty five years, which I liked a lot. I liked Ellen and Connor a lot. My only criticism is that in parts points of view switched within paragraphs, but this could have been a stylistic choice and it does mostly work. As I say, I do like Graham's work a lot and will be interested to see what he writes next. I'm giving this four out of five!

When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando - Review

Sunday, June 19, 2022


Where did I get it? 

My friend Lucinda sent this proof copy to me - I think she got it at a book fair she attended. She's a children's librarian. I liked Danielle's other book so was excited to get this one! 


What's it about? 

It has three different narrators - Jackson, Chantelle, and Marc. Right at the beginning Jackson is on a date with Aimee from his school in the Arndale Centre in Manchester when he sees a young teenager getting stabbed. A girl has rushed over to help, but Jackson does too. He holds Shaq's hand and listens to him asking for his mother. When the police arrive and Shaq has been taken to hospital, Jackson is questioned by the police as a suspect, and Aimee also says she thinks Shaq probably deserved it and was a gang member or something. Jackson however stays in touch with Chantelle and Marc and the three strike up a friendship.

Chantelle goes to school with Shaq and Marc. She lives with her grandma and her little sister, as her mum has abandoned them. She is trying really, really hard to get on with her GCSEs but a few teachers think she's bad news. She is a brilliant character - really angry and forthright in all the best ways. 

Then there's Marc. He has been in care since he was much younger and has been moved around plenty of times. He is now living with Dry Eileen and likes to stay in the background. He ends up friendly with Chantelle and Jackson though and really comes out of himself throughout the book.

Jackson lives with his parents in a posher area of Manchester than the others, and goes to a private school. However witnessing the stabbing and what happens after changes him and alters the course of his life. He wants to study creative writing at university and not law or medicine like his parents want him to. I liked Jackson a lot. 


What age range is it for? 14+ depending on your fourteen year old. 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes Marc is gay although it's not a main storyline. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, all three main characters are Black and the book very much focusses on how they navigate life as young Black people. I loved it. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Not especially, but I think all three characters are really affected by the stabbing 


Is there any sex stuff? No 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, obviously. It is a little graphic. 


Are there swear words? Yes, used so well, I loved how the characters spoke 

 

What criticisms do I have? None 


Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely, I just really liked it 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I couldn't wait to read it! 

 

What do I think of the cover? I realise this isn't the final cover but it is so nice and colourful


How many stars? Five out of five 

 

Where is the book going now? I'm sending it to my friend Laura as I think she'll really like it!

Gay Club! by Simon James Green - Review

Wednesday, June 15, 2022


Do you love my uber retro duvet cover seen on the right?? My mum gave me it, it's about as old as I am! 

Where did I get it? I bought it on Amazon a few weeks ago when it was just 99p, proper bargain. 


What's it about? Barney is in the lower sixth form at his school, Greenacre Academy. He's a good student, a member of the LGBTQ+ society at school, and is quite an awkward person. But thanks to Mandy, the ex president of the club, having left, the presidency is within Barney's reach. After all, there's only four members. Barney will of course vote for himself, and so will his best friend George. Maya, who's also his friend, has recently split up with Bronte, with acrimonious feelings running wild, so she won't vote for Bronte. Only Bronte will vote for herself, meaning Barney will definitely win. 

However, Bronte manages to persuade the headmaster to open up the vote to the WHOLE SCHOOL. This is partly because the school will be asked to submit a video to an organisation for queer youth showing off their school. Barney is nowhere near as popular as Bronte is, particularly when she and Mandy stage a promposal in front of the whole school, complete with songs from the musicals. George steps up as campaign manager and Barney is catapulted into the spotlight.

He also starts talking to a boy from their rival school online. He has to fake a relationship with a boy at school so he has to keep this one under wraps...

And then a whole LOAD of stuff happens! I was just so surprised where the book went and I don't want to give too much away because I liked discovering it for myself and think readers should too. Towards the end I just couldn't fathom who the villain of the piece was, and I LOVED that. It kept me guessing. 

I loved how funny this book was among also having good politics, making extremely good points about the state of the world for LGBTQ+ youth, and being very poignant in general. I can't write funny like that so I appreciate it when authors can. 

I really want to join in one of the gang's extravagant meals, for sure. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? I mean, obviously! Barney is gay, Maya is a lesbian, and George is trans. There's others too, including Bronte of course, but I don't want to give away too much. I like how different LGBTQ+ issues were handled throughout - with a light touch but very much making their points. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes Maya is Black, although it's not mentioned much, but she herself mentions it in context of being both queer and a person of colour. 


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


Is there any sex stuff? There is (again no spoilers) but it's not at all graphic, it's very fade to black, which completely suits Barney as a character in my opinion! 


Are drugs mentioned or used? No 


Is there any talk of death? No 


Are there swear words? Yes, a few. Judiciously used. 

 

What criticisms do I have? My ONE criticism is that we never meet either of Barney's parents! He mentions them being acrimoniously divorced a couple of times, but neither appear. Barney lives with his mum. I kind of get it on one level, but there's a terrible bit towards the end where I really wanted Barney to pick up the phone and confide in his mum. But I guess they didn't have that kind of relationship! But I wished they did, because I wanted an adult to reasure him.  


Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely. 


Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I saw Simon talk about it at Northern YA Lit Fest and knew I had it on my Kindle, so I got to it. I actually started reading something else but I really wasn't gelling with it, having read only about 60 pages in three days, so I gave up and turned to this. I read 20% straight off! 

 

What do I think of the cover? It's so cute! Bright and vibrant! 


How many stars? Five out of five, I just loved it so much! 

Northern YA Lit Fest 2022 in Preston

Sunday, June 12, 2022

It's back! We're back! Back in person at a conference! I was so excited to go! 

I went to Northern YA Lit Fest in 2018 and 2019 and had tickets for 2020 when it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, so I'm a big supporter of the festival and was so excited to be back. It actually took place over two days, with the second day focussing on middle grade and children's books and authors. However, I know I wouldn't be able to cope with this, so I opted to just go on the YA day. I asked Lee to come with me to carry books and generally be helpful, but actually as the festival was less well attended than previously, I probably would have been fine by myself. But no worries, he enjoyed himself. 

We set off around 8.10 and managed to get to Preston by just after 9.30, meaning we had plenty of time to get checked in and walk round the stalls. There were some good stalls, but I'd have liked a couple more I think. There was also some confusion as to which events were being held where, which could have been avoided by signs or by it being printed in the programme. I had signed up to the two panels featuring agents, as I'm trying to get agented myself, so I headed there. Lee didn't think they sounded too interesting, so he got himself a hot chocolate and sat in the break out areas playing on his Switch. 

I first of all watched "The Publishing Process" which was engaging and interesting, and then watched "Getting Your Pitch Right" which veered off subject slightly but was still fun to watch. There was a lot of talk about Heartstopper and how it has hopefully shown that YA is very sellable, which I liked. 

By this time it was 12 and there were some signings. I had taken some books that I've already read for signing, and bought a bunch more from the stalls. I spoke to Cynthia Murphy and she signed my journal as I read her book but it was from the library so I didn't have it for signing. The signings were a lot better this year, but again that's maybe because there were fewer people there. Queues weren't stupidly long and moved quickly. I was impressed!

There's a canteen right off the room where the stalls are, so we went in there for lunch. It was cheap and seats were plentiful so that was good. Before long it was 1pm and it was time to watch "The World We Live In" which included Simon James Green who was very funny and who also talked about having a school visit to a Catholic boys school cancelled recently, which was sad. It was good. Then came Living, Loving and Laughing which was very good, we both enjoyed that one. Two of the authors managed to sell themselves to me so Lee hotfooted it back to Ebb and Flo book stall to buy their books for me for the signings which were next. I also got copies for my friend Sam for her birthday, and both authors put a birthday message to her in the books which was lovely of them. 

It wasn't obvious who everyone was at the signing tables and obviously, as there were different panels/workshops going on, you may not have seen everyone in the room. Signs on tables could have helped here. As it was I had to google C G Moore to check what he looked like before taking over my copies of his books for signing. 

The last panel at 4pm was one about fantasy, and I found it interesting even though fantasy is not really my genre. Accessibility and accessible seats were a lot better this year, which I'm glad about. At 5pm I took a last look at all the stalls. There were far fewer proof copies this year which is a shame but not really something to worry about. I had bought many books! I had a really good time. 

I had done some research beforehand into good vegetarian food in the area and found RK Dining which is Indian street food that is all vegetarian or vegan. This was extremely exciting to me! It was just down the road from UCLan where the festival had been held, and we got a table easily. The problem was there was too much choice! I went for samosa chaat to start with then masala paneer which came with three rotis so I didn't get rice. I also had a mango lassi. Lee went for a mixed starter (where he let me try everything) and Bombay potatoes, which also came to roti. That cost us the grand total of £25 which was a bargain! 

There's a deli attached to the restaurant so we bought some stuff there to have for tea later in the week which is a treat too! I would recommend the place if you're in the area, it's quick, authentic, and delicious!

My dress, if you're wondering, is the Mary Poppins dress from Carolina Dress Room. I have worn it before but not for ages, and I thought it would be cute for a literary festival. I got a lot of compliments on it. 

I can't wait until next year! 


In the agent events are the beginning of the day


Living, Loving and Laughing


Me and Simon James Green!


The Fight For What's Right


Samosa chaat


Lee's mixed starter


Mango lassi, it was so good! 


Masala paneer


Lee's Bombay potatoes


As I said I did take a few books to get signed that I already owned, which aren't pictured, but there are all the books I bought (most of them are now signed). The middle one at the bottom is a proof I was given!

The Gifts That Bind Us by Caroline O'Donoghue - Review

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

 

Where did I get it? I had it on pre order in paperback because I loved All Our Hidden Gifts, but I was also granted access to it by Walker Books on Netgalley, so thank you very much to them. 


What's it about? It's the second in the series about Maeve and her friends. It's set in Ireland and in the first book Maeve, Roe, Lily and Fiona discover that they all have magical abilities. They have to go up against a spirit called the Housekeeper in order to save Lily from the river, where she has become the river. In doing this ritual they have alarmed all their families, who think it was some kind of attempted suicide pact. Now we're back a few months later, over the summer, where all four are spending lots of time in Roe's car just chilling out and having a good time. Things aren't exactly right between Maeve and Lily, but they're working on it.

They break into the school grounds and discover that the school has bought some land behind their grounds and have expanded, with a tennis court. The four spend a lot of time there, working on their magical gifts. Fiona and Lily discover that if they work together they can use both of their gifts together. But they're worrying Maeve too - Lily seems permanently changed from her time in the river, and Fiona keeps harming herself so that she can heal herself. Maeve can also tell through her telepathy that her parents are very worried about her.

The girls start school and find it's all changed inside too. The basement has been turned into classrooms, and The Chokey has been turned into a guidance counsellor's office. Miss Banbury is the new guidance counseller, although Maeve has already met her from when she was a customer in Nuala's shop, where Maeve is now working. But The Chokey's walls soon start to sprout mould, as if what was there before just can't be stopped.

And of course there's the Children of Brigid. Maeve has a few run ins with Aaron and then they turn up in school too, spouting their purity culture rhetoric. School starts to go loopy but only Lily, Fiona and Maeve seem to have noticed. Maeve does something which puts a wedge between her and Fiona, and Roe, meanwhile, is off on tour and he seems to be living his best life, and is forgetting his gifts. Maeve knows that next year she's going to be left alone in Kilbeg, which she finds very hard to cope with. 

It's like an ultra realistic look at that last year of school, when you know it is coming to an end, but with added magic and very villainous bad guys. This is a proper middle book of a trilogy - the stakes are higher, the body count is higher, and everything you thought you knew is turned on its head. 


What age range is it for? 14+ 


Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, Roe is non binary but still using he/him pronouns. There's some discussion about which word to use for him in relation to Maeve - he's not a boyfriend but partner feels too old, etc. I liked this. I also like the very realistic portrayal of Roe wanting to get out of a small town to avoid bigots like the Children of Brigid, and of him desperate to be free. 


Are any main characters people of colour? Yes Fiona is Filipino, and like Roe, some of why she wants to escape is that she is sick of racism thrown at her. 


Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I think all the girls do have some kind of PTSD from what they went through in the spring, and it's coming out in different ways in each of them. It's not explicit though. 


Is there any sex stuff? Yes, and while it's not graphic I do want to touch on it. Maeve and Roe decided not to have sex with each other until Maeve is ready, but they do in this book, and... I get WHY Maeve says it, but I'm not sure - as an adult - that she has the best motives. Just be sure of WHY you're having sex if you're ever in that position, okay


Are drugs mentioned or used? Only magical ones! 


Is there any talk of death? Yes, lots. It's not particularly graphic but there are graphic parts to the novel. 


Are there swear words? A few, not loads 

 

What criticisms do I have? Not many really. The book took me a while to read because it's so dense. 


Would I recommend the book? Yes, especially if you liked the first one. 


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

 

What do I think of the cover? I love it, it fits in perfectly with the first one and a friend of mine on Instagram said she really liked it too. 


How many stars? Four out of five. 

 

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

Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman - Review

Saturday, June 4, 2022


Okay so if you've been paying attention recently you'll have seen that this book was withdrawn from shelves in a very reactionary manner. This piqued my interest in it so I went on the library system to request it, but it wasn't there. So I asked the next time I went into the library if they could do an interlibrary loan for me. The person there got me to fill in a form and then I didn't hear anything until I got a notice to say that it was in the library for me to pick up! I did so and was then surprised that it wasn't loaned from another library - it was brand new! Barnsley libraries had bought it! I'm really pleased because I hope that it gets circulated around amongst children and adults alike. 

So you might have heard that this is a graphic novel about the Holocaust, written between 1978 and 1991. Let me start there. The author is Art Spiegelman, who is the son of Holocaust survivors Vladek and Anja. They were Polish Jews who ended up in Auschwitz but who both survived. Art was born in 1948 when the couple were in Sweden, shortly before their move to America. Anja died by suicide in 1968 and Vladek is remarried to Mala, who he seems to dislike. He is in ill health, and over the months Art starts to get his story about World War Two. 

Obviously you know that both Anja and Vladek survived the war from the beginning, but the book is still immensely harrowing. I'll come back to this point. 

The Jews are portrayed as mice throughout the book, and the Nazis are cats. The Polish are portrayed as pigs, and there's the odd American, Brit and French person along the way too. I found it interesting because sometimes Art portrays himself as wearing a mouse mask, as if he is putting his Jewish side on or something - I found this very powerful. 

Anja and Vladek met and were married before the war, and had a son, Richieu. Anja's family owns a hosiery factory and has a lot of money, which at the beginning they seem to believe will protect them from the full horror of the war. They have to move into a ghetto (fact for you: the first ghetto was in Venice, Italy, and was used to segregate Jews there in the 16th century) and as the years go by, more and more of their family members are deported and, in Vladek's English patterns, "are finished". The family eventually hides in a bunker, and smaller and smaller spaces. The couple decide to send Richieu to family in the country; he did not survive the war and Art talks about the trauma of trying to live up to the spectre of a dead brother throughout his life. Vladek and Anja are separated and both end up in Auschwitz, where they eventually make contact. The end of the book sees the Germans surrender but also shows the absolute confusion at the end of the war when inmates were marched out of the camps and then just....... left free. I actually really liked that Anja and Vladek's life was shown after this, when they were refugees, displaced persons, and how they had to scramble to even try to rebuild their lives. 

Art finds his dad quite irritating, while still loving him and while trying to firstly get his story and secondly understand his trauma. Vladek refuses to spend any money and saves all kinds of things just in case - both of which are easily understood as trauma responses, but which are difficult for his family to live with. I think Art did a brilliant job of portraying Vladek as a very human person - there can be a tendency to show people who have lived through something traumatic as perfect and without fault, I think. That is definitely not the case there, and I liked that.

Vladek is never blase or casual about friends and family members who died, but he is matter of fact about it, and I think that is how he had to be in order to survive. At the end, he talks about how few of their family survived - just a brother and a nephew or something like that. I found this so harrowing - it's easy to intellectually know that six million Jews (and many other people the Nazis wanted to exterminate, including Roma, gypsies, and queer people) but I found it very hard to be faced with the knowledge that of these two people's huge families, only a handful remained by 1945. I found this to be a brilliant part of the book which really brought it home to me. 

I also found the sheer luck that Vladek and Anja had absolutely astonishing. It really felt like their survival wasn't through strategy or anything at all that a person could influence, but that it was just sheer bloody luck that they survived when so many others didn't. Vladek comes close to being found or close to death several times. It is terrifying and so utterly random. 

I'm giving this five out of five - it's absolutely brilliant and will really educate you on the lives of actual Jewish people before and during and after the Holocaust. My undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies so I do know a lot about Judaism and its history, but there was still a lot for me to learn here and for that I am really, incredibly grateful. I urge you to read this immediately. 
 

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