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Something To Be Proud Of by Anna Zoe Quirke - Review

Sunday, June 30, 2024

I saw someone talking about this on Twitter so I pre ordered it. It arrived at the beginning of June and I picked it up as part of my queer reading for Pride month. I'm really glad I picked it up so quickly because it is so much fun and it really made me laugh. It's also got a lot of depth to it, a lot of heart. I would really recommend it for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. 

The book starts with Imogen at a Pride festival. She's bisexual and autistic, and the noise of the festival and all the sensory stuff and everything else overwhelms her, and she ends up having a not great time there. She gets left behind by her 'friends' and starts thinking that she would love to create a more accessible Pride event (because nothing can be one hundred percent accessible). She starts sixth form (I think, there's not a lot at school but it seems like it's September and her year has just done GCSEs) and realises that her friends - whose names I don't even remember because they're not significant - aren't real friends so she ditches them. She wants to start an LGBTQ+ pressure group at school so she asks the headmistress if she can. She's fobbed off, being told that she'll need five members and one teacher involved. Imogen doesn't let that stop her, though, so she goes to ask Ollie if he will join.

Ollie is the gay captain of the football team. He's also part Japanese. He's out and proud. He love his mum and little sister, Maya, but things are difficult at home because his parents have just announced they're getting divorced. Ollie realises there's lots he's not being told about the situation, and his anger with his dad grows. I loved Ollie's family situation and what happened in it throughout the book. Ollie is totally bemused by Imogen's suggestion and refuses to join. But then Amelia hears about the group.

She is head girl and is going out with Josh. He's also on the football team so they're like the alpha couple. Amelia wants to join the group and makes Josh agree too. Imogen's favourite teacher, Mr Holland, agrees to host the group, and with Amelia's friend Maryam on board, they can form! So they do! Two other people turn up too. Imogen tells them her idea of making an accessible Pride event, and everyone is on board so they start fundraising. They also want to talk about the issue of gender neutral toilets because Clem is non binary and finds it hard to use any toilets. 

Imogen's family is more difficult and she has always felt alone, but in the book she makes genuine friends - people who accept her as she is. That leads to her coming out a little bit more! Plus Ollie finds exactly what kind of gay person he is and what that includes. There are so many surprises in this book and I loved all of them but don't want to spoil them. The book is funny and irreverent but also really poignant. I love how Ollie learnt that love comes in all forms. I love how Imogen accepted herself a lot more. I'm giving this four out of five and will definitely read something else by this same author! 

In Memoriam by Alice Winn - Review

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Continuing with my theme of LGBTQ+ books for the month of June, I picked up this book as I have heard so many good things about it and really wanted to read it. I bought it earlier in the year with a gift voucher from Waterstones. It was ideal for June. It's hard going but ultimately a brilliant book and I can't recommend it enough. 

So, the book starts in 1914. Ellwood and Gaunt are in the sixth form at Preshute, a prestigious public school in Wiltshire. They are terribly in love with each other, but quite unable to say this to each other. They have plenty of friends around them. Ellwood is extremely charming and everyone loves him. Gaunt fights other boys and a lot of them find him prickly, but he is popular. And because this is a boys' school, there's a lot of sexual contact between older boys and younger ones, which both Gaunt and Elllwood have engaged in. But war has broken out and the school newspaper is full of the deaths of old boys, young men only, and it's all that anyone can talk about. Ellwood is a poet and has a quotation for every juncture. Gaunt is obsessed with the Classics.

Ellwood's mother is Jewish which makes people somewhat suspicious of him. He's an only child and he's determined that he is going to marry Gaunt's sister, Maud. This is clearly just because he adores Gaunt and thinks she is the next best thing. It's very Brideshead Revisited of them. Gaunt's mother is German and he speaks fluent German, and he and Ellwood spent a summer in Munich before the war. But obviously now anti-German sentiment is growing, and Gaunt's mother asks him to sign up for the army so that they don't get any more abuse. Gaunt is just eighteen and at this point the age to sign up was nineteen, but he's allowed to anyway. He signs up just before Christmas 2014. 

He is sent to the front in France as an officer in 2015. He writes letters to Ellwood (who he often calls Elly but never calls him by his first name, Sidney) and to an older boy he used to have a thing with, Sandys. I hadn't really before ever taken into account the class differences in World War One and the differences between the 'men' and the officers, who are all barely eighteen and have been at public schools. There is another officer, Hayes, who isn't upper class, and the differences are drawn really well and I loved this part of the story. 

And of course the war. Trench warfare. It's really harrowing - there's just death after death after death. Ellwood and Gaunt (because of course Ellwood signs up too) are first together and then separated. Gaunt is presumed dead, but I don't want to say too much about what happens to him. Ellwood is haunted by his ghost. Ellwood definitely has shell shock and Gaunt has terrible nightmares. Every soldier is just horrendously harmed physically or mentally or both. Probably both. I am glad I read this, but I won't say it's easy going.

The love story though makes it worth it. I don't want to say too much but I just loved it throughout. They are both ridiculous humans and I desperately wanted them to be together. I loved the ending. I'm giving this five out of five and I am making my friend Cinders read this because I want her to have her heart ripped in two as well. 

Just Like Everyone Else by Sarah Hagger-Holt - Review

Monday, June 24, 2024

As I said, I took this away on holiday with me because I wasn't sure how many books I would read, but wanted to make sure I had enough LGBTQ+ books to read as that's all I'm reading in June. I actually picked up a different book, but it turned out to be set at Christmas, which isn't something I wanted to read in the middle of June, so I picked this up instead. I read it really quickly and liked it more than The Fights That Make Us, weirdly! 

This book is set in Sheffield which I'm thrilled about because I think there needs to be more northern bassed books in both children's and teen literature. The main character is Aidan Taylor, who is twelve going on thirteen at the beginning of the book. He's in Year 8 and his best friend is Jack. Jack was one of the kids his mum used to childmind, and they have been close ever since. Jack is really into drama and gets bullied because other kids think he is gay. Aidan doesn't know if Jack is or isn't, but he thinks he himself might be. But he's really into running and he's just not sure about himself. 

He does fell running and is really good at it; he bonds with his Auntie Jo over running. She has just been accepted to run the London Marathon so she's really excited about that. She's at Aidan's for a family barbecue and she brings her friends Justin and Atif. 

Aidan is the eldest of five kids - all girls except for him. They are Bells, Chloe, and twins Daisy and Evie. Life is chaotic. Their parents are really involved in their lives and Aidan really has no reason to think that they won't accept that he's gay, but he still doesn't want anyone to find out. So when he realises Justin and Atif are a couple, he panics because he thinks that means people might realise about him. Then things get even worse because Aidan's Mum volunteers to be a surrogate for Justin and Atif. 

Aidan thinks his family is already crazy enough, and now there's another baby on the way. He can't bear to tell anyone at school. He's sick of Atif and Justin being around all the time, and the fact that everyone is just so positive about being a team about everything. I knew the book would have a happy ending but it takes a lot of twists and turns to get there. I loved Aidan and his sisters - they're so realistic. I liked the stuff with Jack and how that was resolved. A lot happens in the book. I love the fact that it's set in Year 8, which is a difficult year I think. I'm giving this five out of five because I just absolutely loved it. 

The Fights That Make Us by Sarah Hagger-Holt - Review

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Still keeping on with my reading LGBTQ+ books for June, I took two books by Sarah Hagger-Holt on holiday with me because I've had them for a while and wanted to get to them. I've read and enjoyed two previous books by Sarah, so I knew I was in for some good stories. I genuinely think she's one of the best UK based middle grade authors out there at the moment. Plus all her books feature queer kids or families, which I love. I'm here for representation of all types of families in kids books, of course!

So, this book is about Jesse. They are twelve years old, and nonbinary. They're out to their parents and brother Tom, who is now off at university. Their best friend is Simran, who is pansexual. The two spend their weekends at queer bookshop and cafe Over the Rainbow. Jesse doesn't find it easy to get on at school due to some bullying, but they have this brilliant history called Ms Grant. She wants all the kids to choose a subject to do a special presentation on. Sim and Jesse aren't sure what to do theirs on.

But then Jesse's mum's cousin Lisa dies. Lisa lived with Jesse's mum's family for a bit when she was sixteen, but Jesse's mum isn't sure why exactly, as she was only five ish at the time. Lisa's brother Matthew now lives in Australia. Lisa has died and Jesse's mum takes them and Sim to the funeral. Lisa was a lesbian, and her friends have organised the funeral. They asks Jesse and Sim to find something in the loft, and as they're doing so, they find an old box full of Lisa's stuff. 

There's her diary, which starts in 1987 when she is getting friendly with a girl called Nicky. She thinks she's in love with Nicky but she knows her family will never accept it. Plus there's a new piece of legislation - Clause 28 (known as Section 28 when it was passed as law) - being considered. Nicky wants to protest it, and in 1988 she persuades Lisa and their friend Andy to go with her to London for the protest. The box is full of other relics of Lisa's teenage years too - her Dr Marten boots, a waistcoat, and a T shirt from the day of the protest. 

Jesse is intrigued to learn about their community, their history, and how this fits into their place in the world. I like Jesse and I liked getting to know Lisa through her diary. This is a very sweet book with very important messages. I'm giving it four out of five, 

Eating for England by Nigel Slater - Review

Monday, June 17, 2024

I picked this book up in a charity shop last year, I think. It's been down the side of the bed for ages. I've decided for June I'm just reading books by LGBTQ+ authors and/or about queer characters, so I knew this fitted as Nigel is not straight. I read Toast by him well over a decade ago, which is a brilliant autobiography told through food. So I thought I would like this, which is little vignettes about food, especially foods that are typically found in the United Kingdom. However, I'm not sure that it really worked too well. For one thing, Nigel seemed to conflate 'English' and 'British' and made it sound like all the people in the UK eat all exactly the same things. He really should have mentioned some Scottish and Welsh foods too. Plus he repeated himself quite a lot. There's a lot of stuff at the beginning about biscuits, like selection boxes of biscuits, and how pink wafers are terrible, and then there's the same thing at the end of the book too. Sadly I really can't give this more than three out of five. I'm sorry for the short review too, but I just really don't have more to say!

The Society for Soulless Girls by Laura Steven - Review

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

I've read a couple of books by Laura Steven before and generally liked them, as she was writing contemporary YA, which I love. Then at Northern YA Lit Fest a couple of years ago she was talking about this book, where she's pivoted a bit because this is a fantasy novel although deeply rooted in realism. I liked the sound of it so I bought it that day and got it signed by Laura. I've been meaning to pick it up for ages but then it got buried underneath a load of other stuff, so it's taken me a while. But I'm so glad I finally got to it! It was a good start to Pride month, too!

So, the book is set in Northumberland in the United Kingdom. There's a university called Carvell, which has a long and dark history. It used to be a convent, and a nun called Sister Maria took her own life in the late 1800s; she was later made into a saint and a statue of her oversees the college, with a necklace of rubies around her neck. Then, ten years prior to the setting of the book, four people died in mysterious circumstances. One of them, Janie, was known to one of the protagonists of this book, Lottie. She has been obsessed with the case of the four murders ever since. Part of her wanting to go to Carvell is because of these murders, which her dad isn't happy about. 

She is from Kent and she is close to her parents. She plays hockey for the county and wants to do the same at Carvell. She's studying English Lit and is very interested in the gothic. She is a jock, and very sunny and happy - she rarely gets angry or similar. She meets her roommate - yes totally tropey, they share a room - Alice and originally the two of them don't get on.

Alice is a proper goth, she is studying philosophy and is quite pretentious. She has two brothers and her parents. Her mum is unwell. Alice is from Northumberland and she has a lot of anger. Anger at how women are treated differently by the world, anger at how she's been treated, anger just at the world in general. She finds a book in the library which details a ritual she could do to make herself calm. She prepares a tincture and takes it one night in the library. And then her soul splits in two. 

Meanwhile, Lottie is obsessed with getting inside the North Tower, where all the deaths happened. The Dean, Vanessa Mordue, catches her one night and makes it clear she needs to back off. Lottie starts to sleepwalk, though, uncertain about what is happening or where she's been. And then she wakes up with a ruby embedded in her neck. 

The two girls absolutely do not get on and hate that they have to share a room. They're really different, and Alice doesn't endear herself to Lottie right at the beginning of the book. They barely getting along, but Alice desperately needs help to stop her harming herself or anyone else. Lottie wants to make friends and get on the hockey team, but the ruby is stopping her doing that... And there's also something between them, definitely. 

I really liked the setting of the book - it's eerie and gothic and I could picture it so well. I really liked both Alice and Lottie and wanted them to get together and sort it all out. I thought a few of the side characters could have done with a little bit more fleshing out, and I thought it did drag in the middle for a bit. I liked the mystery and the overarching message, and think this is a good message for young women to learn. In all I'm giving this four out of five. 

Eliza Mace by Sarah Burton and Jem Poster - Review

Thursday, June 6, 2024

I really can't remember where I heard of this book but I clearly did because I requested it at the library. I must have been waiting a while because when it came in I was like what the hell is this book! But I picked it up and I ended up really enjoying it, which is the main thing. I think this is going to be the first in a series and I will definitely read the next ones. 

The book is set on the border between England and Wales somewhere in the 1870s. Eliza is sixteen, and lives in the big hall with her parents and her uncle. Her father, Robert, is an unpredictable and difficult human. He has run through the family's money, meaning that they have barely any servants left, and life is difficult. The house and estate belong to Hannah, Eliza's mother, who suffers with her nerves and is quite sickly. She refuses to sell any of the land which would make the family solvent again, mostly because she thinks Robert would quickly spend the money. He is a proper wrong 'un and he's borrowed off absolutely everyone, including his manservant, Jacob Todd. He's nasty and brutish with everyone. His brother, James, has to live with the family because he has fallen on hard times too. He is very close to Hannah and Eliza, which winds Robert up. 

Eliza's sister Charlotte is already married and living in Bristol I think. There are hints that it isn't a completely happy marriage for one reason and another. She and Eliza write to each other. Eliza loves her father even though she realises his faults. Her mother is anxious for her to marry well and wants her to behave like a lady. Eliza is too headstrong for that, though.

Then Robert goes missing. He is last seen in the town getting drunk in a pub, and someone was seen attacking him. His horse was then found and stolen, and the person concerned is arrested. The police are called, and the constable, who is new to the area, is determined to leave no stone unturned. He and Eliza get close, much to Hannah's consternation. Eliza is a sharp, intelligent, quick witted girl. I really liked her. I liked Constable Pritchard too, and James. Really a lot of people had a motive to do harm to Robert, and it was fun to discover so many motives. 

The setting is really good, too. There are definitely elements of gothic in it. I could picture the house and the surroundings so well and I really liked it. I'm giving this four out of five and I really hope there's another one soon! 

Send Nudes by Saba Sams - Review

Monday, June 3, 2024

I saw this book in a few bookshops but kept putting it back, but it definitely caught my eye, so when I had an Amazon voucher I picked it up. I like books of short stories and this is a really accomplished one. I would really recommend it! This book really gave me vibes of Boy Parts by Eliza ClarkBoy Parts by Eliza Clark so I think if you liked that this will appeal too. I'm going to send this to my sister in law Libby because I think she'll enjoy it. 

A lot of the stories concern young women, teenagers and a little older, women who are just coming into themselves and discovering their places on earth. There's a couple set in Covid lockdowns too, which I liked. There is love and hate and abuse and so on, a real plethora of experiences and so on. There's really not too much I can say and I've been putting this review off for ages, so basically: I liked the stories and am giving this book five out of five. 

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