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Northern YA Lit Fest 2023 in Preston

Friday, July 28, 2023

 As you may remember, I've been to Northern YA Litfest three times before, in 2018, 2019, and 2022. I really support it especially because it is held in the north, and I always have a really good time. This year, they didn't get the funding that they have had before, but decided to have a smaller conference, combining the YA and the children's stuff into one day. I think in general, you could tell there was less money and there were fewer volunteers, but in all, it was still a brilliant day and they had still done really well and I was glad to have gone. We will see what happens next year!

Lee and I set off around 8am and got to Preston about 9.30 even though the rain was really heavy on parts of the M62 (also I really hate the M62). I managed to pick up some proofs from the table which is always exciting, and I looked around some of the stalls. There weren't many but the ones there were were very cute! 

We headed into the "Getting Into Publishing" panel first, which was interesting even though I don't really want to get into publishing! I talked to one of the panellists later and it turned out she grew up in Wakefield like I did! Too weird! Next was "Demystifying the Author Journey" which had Danielle Jawando as one of the panellists. I really enjoyed one of her books last year so I really liked listening to her. She signed my book afterwards which was great too. 

Next was the "Being You" panel which was brilliant - I really enjoyed that one. Sara Barnard is always good and her new book sounds amazing. I bought it and got her to sign it afterwards. It is always a pleasure to see her on a panel. I will have to pick the book up soon! 

The cafeteria wasn't open this year, which was a shame, but I guess it's because it was out of term time. Lee went along to Tesco and got us some sandwiches which we ate in the atrium. That did mean that we were slightly late for the next panel, which was a bit annoying - it wasn't our fault, it was just because of lunch! 

The panel was "The Strange and The Sinister" which included Laura Steven and Cynthia Murphy, both of whom I was really excited to see. It was a funny and fun panel. I spoke to them both afterwards and got books signed. I only bought three books this year which is some kind of record for me! I did also buy some merch - you can see those photos at the end of this post. 

The last panel we saw was You Cannot Be Serious, which again was really funny. I spoke to Dee afterwards and she was lovely. We did another scan of the stalls and stuff, but decided to leave around 3.30. I think there might have been another panel afterwards, but the information wasn't really given, so we didn't know. But! We were glad to get home early and we ordered Chinese food for tea. 

I was wearing my Be Gay Solve Crimes t shirt which is to do with Robin Stevens, and there was someone else there in the exact same t shirt! There were many amazing outfits and some people were really dressed up for Barbie! It was so much fun. I had such a good day, as usual. 

In the very first panel

In the second one

Here's me and Danielle Jawando

And here's the Being You panel with a panel leader in a Topsy Curvy dress which was SO good

There's me and Sara Barnard. My necklace came from Black Heart Creatives in their closing down sale

The Strange and The Sinister panel. We had to sit a bit further up for this one, but this in general is a really accessible room and space for me

The last panel we saw

Here's my outfit when we got home

Here's the books I got! The first five were proofs and the last three I bought, all of which I'm very excited to read

And finally here's the stickers and pin I bought. The pin says "Hello I am a blogger" which I love!

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter - Review

Monday, July 24, 2023

My partner and I recently went on holiday to the Lake District, where we haven't been for about ten years. We had an absolutely brilliant time. We went to the World of Beatrix Potter in Windermere which was good, it's got models of most of her stories and a lot of information behind each of her books. While we were there I remembered that my grandma bought me this book way back in 1993 when I was just nine years old. She and I were on holiday in Braithwaite and we went to Beatrix Potter's house in Sawrey and she bought me this book. I don't think the photo actually shows the scale of it - it's nearly 30cm tall and about 4cm thick. I know it was 1993 because the book has got a bookplate with my name and the year in the front of it!

I pulled this off the shelves because seeing the exhibition made me remember all the great stories that she wrote. I really like Jemima Puddleduck and Mrs Tiggywinkle - I have models of both of those that live on my desk! I know those stories and Peter Rabbit, obviously, but I had forgotten a lot of the others. It was an absolute joy to read them all again. I liked Tom Kitten and Mr Tod and the Tailor of Gloucester. This is a really gorgeous volume with all the original illustrations and I loved seeing the details that Beatrix put into her art. I'm so glad I bothered to read this, it really reminded me of being little. My grandma died in January of this year so it was nice to read something she had given me, too. 

Different for Boys by Patrick Ness - Review

Thursday, July 20, 2023

I was excited for this novella so requested it on Netgalley and am glad I finally got to it! It's a good little story, I would recommend it for fans of Patrick Ness. The formatting of the Netgalley version wasn't perfect, meaning that I couldn't see all the illustrations properly, which I'm sad about, but they looked beautiful. I know my friend Chloe has this book and I'm going to hers soon so I'm hoping to look at the pictures then!

So this book is very meta, and it breaks the fourth wall. The characters know that they are in a book, they mention it a few times. Also, all the sexually explicit stuff and 'bad' words are hidden behind black boxes, and the characters know that. For instance, one says something like "Oh look, you can't say ___ in this book!" I like this, I really liked how meta this story was. 

So Ant is sixteen and at the beginning of the school year his teacher, Mr Bacon, has decided to put kids in groups of four. Ant and his best friend, Charlie, are put together, and then Freddie turns up. He used to go to the same school but he's been somewhere else, but now he's back! And he's got tall and big! So is Ant, so Freddie suggests that he tries out for the rugby team alongside Freddie. Charlie says that they play soccer, though, and won't hear of Ant playing rugby. 

Then Jack turns up too. Jack is quite camp, so Charlie bullies him for being gay. He did have a girlfriend for the whole of last year, though... Plus, actually, Charlie and Ant hook up any time they're together. Ant is wondering exactly when he lost his virginity - cue lots of information hidden behind boxes. Was it when they did ____? Or when they ______? When does it count? Is it different for boys?

I'm giving this five out of five as I really liked the story - I just wish it had been longer!

Different for Boys was published by Walker Books on the 2nd of March 2023. I was granted an electronic copy of this book for review purposes only. I was not otherwise compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Love Marriage by Monica Ali - Review

Saturday, July 15, 2023

This book was the July book club choice, chosen by Caroline, who generally chooses books that I really like. She warned us at the June meeting that this book was a bit weird to get into, but to bear with it. So I was prepared to do that! But I started this and quickly read 20% of it (I was reading on Kindle) so I'm not sure why Caroline found it hard - but I'll be interested to hear her and other opinions in the middle of July!

So the main character is Yasmin. She is a junior doctor, completing her training, and is working on a geriatric ward. She is engaged to Joe, and right at the beginning of the book, their parents are going to meet for the first time. The two families are going to talk about the wedding, but Yasmin and Joe want it to be quite small. 

Yasmin is the only daughter and eldest child of Indian Muslim parents. Her dad is also a doctor. Her mum doesn't work. She is very busy cooking a ton of stuff to take over to meet Joe's mum with. Yasmin has a brother, Arif, who their dad sees as a total waste of space. He hasn't managed to get a job since leaving university, but wants to make a documentary. He also has a secret girlfriend, Lucy. Yasmin has met her but only briefly. There is often a lot of tension in the family between Arif and his dad; the two women often just smooth things over. Yasmin really only became a doctor because her dad is.

Joe, meanwhile, grew up in a rich family with his single mother, Harriet. She is a renowned writer and activist, and once posed for a nude photo that all of Joe's school friends saw. He is close to her - in fact her boundaries with him barely seem to exist at all, she's always kissing him and she walks in on him in bed and in the shower. She's quite an overbearing person. There are the odd chapters from her point of view, in which she is trying to write her memoir and doesn't seem very comfortable with herself. 

She insists to Yasmin and Joe that they should have a Muslim wedding. Anisah readily agrees and everything spirals out of Yasmin's control. Then she's told by someone at work that Joe has slept with someone else... 

There are also chapters from Joe's point of view, which do feel a little bit odd, but they do add something to the plot because the reader is aware of something that Yasmin and all the other characters aren't. I can't say I enjoyed these chapters though. 

This book did not play out the way I thought it would, but I did really enjoy it. I was hoping several things would happen, and they mostly did. I liked Yasmin, but can't say that I liked any of the other characters. I am giving this four out of five. 

Mother's Boy by Patrick Gale - Review

Monday, July 10, 2023

You might know that I absolutely love Patrick Gale. I've read quite a few of his books and my favourite is Notes From An Exhibition. That might actually my favourite book of all time, if I had to choose (although I might choose Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which I think Patrick would also approve of). I've read a few over the years. I picked this one up in Rhyme & Reason books in Sheffield on Good Friday. I went in to pick up something they had ordered for me and came out with three books alongside that one!

This one is a fictionalisation of the life of the poet Charles Causley. I had only vaguely heard of him so went into this pretty blind. I liked knowing that parts of it were true, and liked the bits that I later read were fictional, but with Patrick's explanation of why. I am willing to believe the entirety of it! I tweeted when I started this book that starting any Patrick Gale novel is always a comfort. It's like he wraps you in a blanket and says "Okay, now I'll begin". I read thirty pages straight off because I was already invested. The book did take me nearly a week to finish, but that's because I was on holiday!

The book starts with Laura, who is working in service in Teignmouth in the ealry 1910s. She likes her job but finds it exhausting. She meets Charlie by chance one day, and the two start a courtship and eventually get married. Charlie is away at war when his son, Charles, is born, and when he comes back he is ill from the war and dies of TB when Charles is just five years old. Laura and her son live in Launceston, where Laura works as a washer woman, taking in laundry from others in the neighbourhood, including that of the local brothel, which is run by her friend Agnes, who is really her only friend. Laura does this job for the rest of her working life. 

Charles, meanwhile, is a quiet, bookish type. He is bullied by the butcher's son, Joe, but then the two become friends. He also has a friend called Ginger, who, when they are around seventeen, introduces him to cruising with other men at a local lido. Charles joins the navy when World War Two breaks out, and becomes a coder, a new role that involves decoding and giving messages on board ships. The book actually starts with an explosion on a boat nearby, where Charles learns that some of his friends have been killed. These friends include Cushty, with whom Charles has a physical relationship.

Charles never married and often spoke about how "it was all there in the poems", which Patrick explains at the end of the book. I will say that reading some of the poems I can see how the argument could be made that he was gay; I think it is drawn very well and in a very real way for the time period. I loved how Charles' foreign service was included with his private life. 

Patrick also says that he was worried about what Laura would be doing during the war - there seems to be little historical record, unlike Charles' diaries, which Patrick made us of - but then read about what was happening in Launceston at the time and gave Laura storylines here. I loved these parts - Laura is an intriguing woman, and I do love to read about what "ordinary" people were doing in times of war. 

I'm giving this five out of five as I really liked it, I am lending it to my friend Sarah too! 

Before the Storm by Jack Byrne - Review and Blog Tour

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for Before the Storm by Jack Byrne. It is a pleasure to welcome you here today - please do have a click round and have a read of some of my other reviews. I also joined in the tour for Jack Byrne's first book, Under the Bridge. You can read my review here

This book is the third in the series. I haven't read the second but I didn't think it mattered really. I had also forgotten the characters in the first book so I just met these ones head on and found them as they were, and then went back later and read my review and was like, ohhh, that's where Vinny comes in. He's the main character in this - there are brief points of view from other people but mostly it's Vinny's story.

In 2016 Vinny is a university professor. He is married to Helen and they have a teenaged son, Charlie. He's about fourteen, I think. The couple split up for a while - this is when Vinny was with Anne and they visited Ireland - but they're back together now. Helen is run off the road by a black SUV and ends up in hospital. When checking her phone, VInny finds out that she's had two messages warning her to stay away, so they are sure that the accident was in fact not an accident at all. 

Then Vinny's friend Sammo dies. He was a heroin user but everyone agrees that he wasn't using and was doing better, so it seems a bit unlikely that he would have overdosed. Helen mentions that she had seen him recently and that she had been warned off by "Macca". This is an old friend of Vinny's who is now pretending to be respectable and is a local councillor. However, his son is a bit of a heavy... 

Meanwhile the narrative also tells us about Vinny, Sammo, and Macca when they were kids, on a day when they broke into an old man's house and stole a valuable gold watch. They had meant to only take money from his electricity meter. Sammo was keeping watch outside. All three boys were thrilled with their treasure, but things quickly unravelled. The actions of that day have repercussions in the men's lives even thirty five years later. 

Again, the book is a love letter to Liverpool - I could picture the neighbourhoods and rows of houses perfectly. I really liked the mystery behind what had happened and how Vinny worked it all out. 

Thank you for having me on the tour!

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