Monday, August 21, 2017

Ferryman by Claire McFall Extract

Today I'm really happy to be taking part in the Claire McFall blog tour celebrating the re-release of Ferryman as well as the publication of the sequel, Trespassers. I remember I wasn't entirely sure if this book would be for me when Ferryman was first published but I'm so glad that I gave it a chance. If you too are unsure or on the fence about reading it then perhaps the extract below will help you decide! 

Ferryman extract

“Wait, stop! Where the hell are we going?” Dylan huffed to a standstill and cemented her feet to the ground, folding her arms across her chest. She ’d been blindly following him, but they had been marching for twenty minutes in total silence now, going in who knew which direction and he hadn ’t said a word since the curt “Come with me.” All of the questions, all reasons for staying at the tunnel mouth that had inexplicably vanished from her head when he ’d ordered her to follow had now returned with full force.

He continued on for a few strides, before turning and looking at her with his eyebrows raised. “What?”

“What?!” Dylan ’s voice rose an octave with incredulity. 

“We’ve just come out of a train crash where everybody else seems to have disappeared. I have no idea where we are, and you are marching us halfway across the middle of nowhere, away from the place where they are going to be looking for us!”

“Who do you imagine is looking for us?” That arrogant half-smirk snuck back onto his lips.

Dylan frowned for a moment, confused by the strange question, before launching into her argument once more. “Well, the police for one. My parents.” Dylan felt a little thrill at being able to say that in the plural for the first time. “When the train doesn ’t arrive at the next station, don ’t you think the train company might wonder where it is?”

She raised her eyebrows here, secretly pleased with the strength of her line of reasoning, and waited for him to respond.

He laughed. It was almost a musical sound, but underpinned with a hint of mockery. His reaction confounded and infuriated her again. Dylan pursed her lips, waiting for the punchline, but it didn’t come. Instead he smiled. It changed his entire face, warming his natural coldness. But there was still something not quite right about it. It looked sincere, but it didn’t stretch to his eyes. They remained icy and aloof.

He walked over to Dylan and ducked down slightly so that he could look into her eyes, shocking blue into startled green. His closeness made her a little uncomfortable, but she stood her ground.

“If I told you you weren’t where you thought you were, what would you say?” he asked.

“What?” Dylan was totally confused, and not a little bit intimidated. His arrogance was maddening, making fun of her at every turn and coming out with nonsense statements like that. What could be the point of his question except to bamboozle her and make her doubt herself?

“Never mind,” he chuckled, reading her expression. “Turn around. Could you find the tunnel again if you had to?”

Dylan looked over her shoulder. The landscape was empty and unfamiliar. Everything looked the same. Stark, windswept hills as far as the eye could see, dipping down into gullied valleys where vegetation revelled in the shelter from the constant gales. There was no sign of the tunnel entrance or even the train tracks. That was weird; they hadn’t gone very far. She felt a tightening in her chest as she realised that she had no idea what direction they had come from, that she would be completely lost if Tristan left her now.

“No,” she whispered, grasping how much trust she had put in this unfriendly stranger.

Tristan laughed as he watched the realisation trickle across her face. “Then I guess you ’re stuck with me.” 

Claire McFall is a writer and a teacher who lives and works in the Scottish Borders. She is the author of paranormal thriller Black Cairn Point, winner of the inaugural Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2017. Her debut novel Ferryman won a Scottish Children’s Book Award, and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Branford Boase award. Her other books include dystopian thriller Bombmaker.

Trespassers, the much-anticipated sequel to Ferryman, will be published on 14th September 2017. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Semi-regular Giveaway!

I used to post these semi-regular giveaways on my blog ...and then I stopped blogging.  But! Not only is it nice to give back to my readers now and again with a giveaway ... it's also nice to off-load some of the ARCs I have lying around.  So I thought I would start doing this again.

Here are the rules: Just leave a comment below with 1 or 2 books you'd like to win and some way for me to contact you, either an email address or Twitter ID. No need to follow my blog or twitter or whatever else (though that is always nice!) All books listed below are advance reader copies of books which are not finished copies. Giveaway open internationally, though if outside of the UK it will probably only be one book. I'll let choose a winner next Saturday, the 26th August.

These aren't so much ARCs I've read recently (some are not so recent!) but more all the ARCs I have in my possession. Good luck!

The Memory Book by Lara Avery
Frostblood by Elly Blake
Winterkill by Kate A Boorman
Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman
Born Scared by Kevin Brooks
With Malice by Eileen Cook
The Lost and the Found by Cat Clarke
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis
Gypsy Girl by Kathryn James
Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
Girl Out Of Water by Nat Luurtsema
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Room Empty by Sarah Mussi
Curiosity House by Lauren Oliver and HC Chester
Replica by Lauren Oliver
Panther by David Owen
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Burning by Danielle Rollins
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
And I Darken by Kiersten White
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Why Representation Matters To Me

I know I've talked a lot on this blog about why representation matters to me but I was thinking about it recently and ...I don't think I've ever put it into one single blog post. I've talked about single aspects of myself in detail, sometimes over multiple blog posts, in fact. But never collectively.

Why does representation matter to me? 

It isn't complicated, as such.  As I've already said, I've already talked a little bit about it.  But I will try to make this post as comprehensive as I can. I've made a list and I'm not sure if even my list will fully represent who I am. But I'll try.  

The reason good representation matters to me is because my experiences as a person and in life are incredibly diverse. I'm not alone in this fact, either. I'm sure many people can say the same. I'm just saying that it matters to me because I would very much like to see myself, and people like me, portrayed realistically and in more complex ways in the entertainment that I consume. YA books for sure but also in television and film and in other types of media. Life is complicated and rich in details and people's experiences and lives should be celebrated.  Nobody should feel alone in who they are.  

This is who I am

I'm mixed race. I've talked about this a bit on this blog. My father is white and my mother is Native Alaskan, specifically Tlingit. I grew up and dealt with a lot of racial abuse and hatred because of my being mixed race. I cried the first time, in my 20s, that I saw a mixed race person in an advert on television (that representation, even later in life meant a great deal to me!). 

I'm bisexual. I wrote a post earlier this month coming out as bisexual and talked a little bit about not being fully aware of this fact about myself for several reasons, one of them being that I'd not seen very many people in my life or in the media who are bisexual so I didn't really know that being bi was okay. More representation would mean others like me might feel okay in their own sexuality sooner, possibly.

I grew up in a family from a lower socio-economic background.  My family was poor, there's no other way to put it.  We scraped by, barely living between pay cheque to pay cheque. My mom was on food stamps for awhile, we would have starved without local food banks some months. I grew up thinking that certain things were not within the realm of possibility for me: university, travelling, certain types of jobs. I was stuck on surviving life instead of living it.

I have several mental illnesses.  I've discussed these at length on this blog.  I have depression and anxiety. I'm in recovery from an eating disorder. I felt suicidal as a teenager. I used to self-harm. There was a book I read as a teenager that I truly believe saved my life. It was a non-fiction book about a particular area of mental illness and I read it and I felt (for one of the first times ever) that I was not alone. It matters. It so matters.

I had a parent with a disability and several mental illnesses. I don't believe I've discussed this as much here.  My dad was injured while in active duty as a soldier and because of injuries sustained during war, he was left disabled. My dad was my primary caregiver and it sometimes left me or my brother to help my dad out with things. He also suffered from depression and PTSD.  Very late in life, my dad was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Because of these mental illnesses (that mostly went untreated throughout my life) life with my father was very uncertain and definitely unstable at times. I remember reading a book in my late 20s that dealt with the depression of a parent and I cried my way through it because I knew how that felt. 

I am an immigrant to the UK.  It was my moving to the UK anniversary earlier this month. I moved here 17 years ago from the United States. I always feel like everyone knows that about me but I had someone ask me on Twitter where I lived before I lived in England so clearly not everybody knows. I wish there were more immigrant stories more widely available. 

I'm in an interracial marriage. Did you know N is of Indian descent? His parents are immigrants to this country too, actually, making him a second generation immigrant. There was conflict in the beginning of our marriage as other people (not us) struggled with the idea of our being together. The world can be an ugly place sometimes but more representation could make this easier on those of us in it.  

I have two beautiful mixed-race children. And finally, I have and am raising two gorgeous boys. Who are part Indian, part white, and part Native Alaskan. And they too deserve to grow up in a world where their existence is celebrated and represented.  

I've honestly never seen myself portrayed in anything I've read or seen.  I've seen aspects of me. But not something that comes pretty close to portraying it all.  It's a tall order, I know. But why not, right?  There have been definite milestones along the way: the book on mental illness that saved my life, the advert with a mixed race couple that made me cry, the book with a bi main character that helped me realise my own sexuality.  

It's all so important.  For young people, for older people.  We need and deserve stories and media that accurately represents the world we live in. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

REVIEW: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman is a book entirely unlike the one I expected to read.  I honestly picked this book up because it has this lovely summery looking cover and I mistakenly thought it'd be a fluffy, light romance. Instead this book is a hard-hitting look at family, mental illness, and finding the strength to carry on when times are tough.  It wasn't the book I was expecting but it was definitely a worthwhile read for and I'm really glad that I picked it up.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is told in two parts, Then and Now. Our main character, Ingrid, is at a three week intensive summer camp for 'at-risk youth' and while relaying her experiences of that ordeal she also walks us through her family history growing up with her larger-than-life opera singer mother, Margot-Sophia. We know that Margot-Sophia has asked Ingrid specifically to come to this survival camp but not the reasons why.

Honestly though, this book.  It was tough to read in parts.  And while I don't always love the dual time-line thing with the Then and Now, with this book I was pretty evenly gripped with finding out what had happened in the past and keeping updated with what was happening in the present. Ingrid was a character that I felt sympathy for right away.  You can tell she's gone through a lot in her young life and is just trying to get by.

It was interesting reading of experiences growing up, being immersed in this unusual lifestyle as her mother performed in different locations throughout Europe. The way Ingrid talks about her mother and the music that her mom produced was utterly lovely. The way her mom's music transported her to other plays, her skill and talent. Which I guess is why they both took it pretty hard when Margot-Sophia's singing career abruptly ends and mother and daughter end up living a semi-normal (boring) life in the suburbs.

Meanwhile, at this camp, Ingrid is struggling with the physicality of hiking in the woods with a huge pack, dealing with the lack of showers or clean clothes, sharing a tent. The other campers have quite serious problems: getting over addictions, getting out of jail etc. It seems that Ingrid doesn't quite belong ...but subtle hints throughout the narrative suggest the possibility that Ingrid is right where she belongs.

Together with the story about the music in the past and the hard work in the present, we also see Ingrid deal with her own romantic relationships: her friendship turned possibly something more in the past, and her dealings with the boy she shares her tent with in the present gave this story some much-needed areas of swoon.

In many ways, Ingrid's story felt very personal to me.  The uncertainty of her childhood is something I could relate to, as is the instability of Margot-Sophia's mental health throughout. I did love that Ingrid ended up holding on to some things in her life: her love of music and the calming influence of her step-father.  I really, really loved this book.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Saying Goodbye

It's been over 6 months now since my dad died. Just writing that sentence made my head spin.  I can almost not believe it sometimes. Six whole months in the world without my dad in it. How did that happen?

One of the last photos I have of me with my dad

It's been a difficult few months, not going to lie.  It was a pretty difficult year or so before he died too, of course. Then I heard the news and ...that feeling I had was so much, it was so overwhelming. I expected it, I knew it was coming. And yet nothing ever prepares you for such a thing. What that feels like.

I'm glad that I've had the support that I've had in my life since. N, my boys, my extended families. It felt easier for a time to focus on more practical matters instead of on my grief, so for a couple months I only really dealt with organising the memorial service I had planned. Picking out music, a venue, putting together a video tribute, writing my dad's eulogy.  These things I could do, I could set my mind to doing them, to accomplishing something. Pushing everything else to one side while I did them.

My family

And that worked for a time.  I flew out to the US in April and my dad's family and friends got together for a lovely send off for my dad.  I'm grateful to so many people for their help in this.  My best friend and her husband for letting me and N and the boys invade their house and for being such amazing emotional supports for me.  My cousin and my aunt for arranging things I couldn't. Everyone that I met for just being so lovely and making me feel like that was exactly where I needed to be surrounded by friends and family.  I had been dreading the speeches, hearing other people's stories and experiences of my dad but it turned out to be the best thing ever. I laughed and I cried. I stood up and said goodbye to my dad in a really public way.  But it was good too.

The following day we drove to the coast, got on a boat and in the middle of some quite choppy beautiful blue water, I dropped my dad's ashes into the sea like he wanted.  Do you know what happened when I did?  Just for a moment, I saw a vision of my dad.  He was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt and he looked decades younger and maybe 100 pounds lighter than I was used to.  And he was leaning against something looking very relaxed.  And he was laughing. That mental image has given me so much comfort in these past six months.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

REVIEW: Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I'm not even sure what I was expecting when I picked up Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch to read.  Probably just a light, fluffy summer romance story.  And I like light, fluffy romance stories! I'd have been happy if that's what it ended up being ...but it really wasn't.  It's a book set during summer. And there is a hint of love in it.  But for me, this book is about grief and family and secrets than it is about anything else.

Lina, our main character, is pretty beaten up at the start of this book.  Her mother has just died of cancer and following her mother's dying wish, she's now in Italy with a man she's never met or heard of, Howard.  It's a pretty confusing time for Lina and she's more than a little bit confused and angry that her mother never told her anything at all about her father before she died.  But now Lina has possession of her mother's diary from when she lived in Italy as a student and together with neighbour, Ren, she goes off in search of answers.

I did very much love the setting of Love and Gelato.  I think there can't be enough YA books set in Tuscany or just Italy in general.  I think it's a wonderful setting, not just for falling in love but also finding out about your parents and about yourself.  All things Lina gets up to during the course of this novel.  There are the sights and sounds of Italy here and also the taste of gelato.  I read books set in Italy and it makes me itch to travel there again. I love that.

There's quite the mystery in this book about what actually happens to Lina's mother all those years ago.  Why she left Italy and didn't mention Howard again.  What must have happened between her parents for Lina's mother to not tell her a single thing.  I'm not always a fan of diary entries or this dual timeline, but I think it worked in this book.  Even though I'm not sure the spacing out of Lina reading the diary entries (and acting all impulsively before reading the entirety of the diary!) was quite believable for me. Still. I understood that it needed to happen that way to maintain the pacing of the book.

I think the thing I enjoyed the most about this book though are the relationships within them.  It's cute how Lina and her neighbour, Ren, get on.  Lina's massive crush on another Italian boy.  Her friendship with the girl back hom.  But I think it's really Lina's relationship with Howard that is at the heart of this novel.  There was something really endearing about Howard. Right from the first time we meet him he stomped right up to my heart and got comfortable there.  I love stories about family and figuring stuff out later in life.  And the way Howard is with Lina kind of just made feel really emotional.  Even when I completely didn't expect it.

So, Love and Gelato was a total surprise for me and I recommend it!

Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

I absolutely adored Geekerella by Ashley Poston. It was such a fun book celebrating fandom and reading it made me really happy! It's a modern day fairy tale retelling of Cinderella but with the added bonus of including cosplay and conventions.

The main character of Geekerella is Elle, a total geek. She's really into this TV programme, Starfield, and becomes increasingly excited about this cosplay competition where the first prize is attending a Cosplay Ball where the main guest is meeting the actor set to play Prince Carmindor in the new movie adaptation. However she doesn't have a lot of support at home from her step-mother or her snobby step-sisters who never really understood Elle's Starfield obsession or how it makes her feel connected to her dad who passed away.

Meanwhile, Darien Freeman is hoping he's up to the task of being the fandom's Prince Carmindor. He's been a total fanboy his whole life and this role is his dream come true. But he's kind of buckling under the pressure of fan's expectations and also his father's who seems to be intent on controlling everything he does.

I think what I love so much about this book is that the bare bones of the Cinderella story is there in playful little details - Elle works at The Magic Pumpkin, a vegan food truck for instance - but there's a story here all of its own.  About friendship and fandom and conventions and finding that place to belong. Some of my favourite elements to the story are the ways in which strangers reassure Elle and even help her out towards the final parts to the story.  I loved her budding friendship with colleague and the ways the characters end up connecting with each other.  I also found it rather sweet how Elle and her father's relationship plays such a large part in the story.

Above all though, Geekerella is just so much fun.  It really spoke to the geek in me and I hope it will do the same for you!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

New Additions to My Netgalley Shelf

Not sure if anyone but me will be interested but I thought every now and again I'd share with you the books I've recently downloaded from Netgalley. I almost never remember to mention them during my book hauls on booktube, and I figure it'd be nice to at least mention them somewhere. Even if I never get around to reading them (likely) AND I like talking about some stuff just so I feel like I'm being held accountable.  You know? So in writing about these books it might make it more likely that I get to reading them sooner rather than later. We'll see how that goes.

Plus, I always just find it really interesting to see what books pique other people's fancy, right? Isn't that interesting?

If You Could See Me Now by Keris Stainton

Izzy Harris should have it all – but her boyfriend has been ignoring her for months, she’s been overlooked for a promotion, and the owner of her local coffee shop pervs on her every time she has a craving for a salted caramel muffin.

Then her life is unexpectedly turned upside down.

Izzy dumps her oblivious boyfriend, and leaps on the chance to win a big pitch at work. Needing to work closely with gorgeous colleague Alex is an added perk…

But then her best friend has her heart broken, the pitch is way more complicated than expected, and Alex is keeping secrets. Does Izzy have what it takes to help her friend, save her career and get the guy?

I'm a huge fan of Keris Stainton and while I don't read a great deal of adult fiction this one sounds amazing and I've been hearing SUCH good things about it. Funny, feminist ...I cannot resist. Why would I want to? 

There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

Okay, I'll admit it.  I didn't know Stephanie Perkins was writing something other than a romantic story for her latest.  I saw 'Stephanie Perkins' on Netgalley and clicked it ... then got a huge surprise when I read the synopsis.  Yeah, yeah. I'm sure you all knew of this ages ago but I've not been keeping up with my YA news. Anyway, not the type of book I'd normally read but I'm definitely intrigued. 

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

Ever since Esther Solar's grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther's father is agoraphobic and hasn't left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them. 

Esther doesn't know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. 

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn't counted on: love.

You know how when you request a book on Netgalley it asks you if it was the author, cover or description of the book that grabbed your attention? For me with this book it was a combination of the cover, the title and the description.  I haven't read Krystal Sutherland's previous book, I hadn't heard of this book before I clicked on it at Netgalley but I thought I'd request it on an utter whim and hope for the best. 

#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous women across North America resound in this book. In the same style as the best-selling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, humiliation, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women making themselves heard and demanding change. Sometimes angry, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have been virtually invisible.

I realise that this choice probably isn't going to be one that YOU necessarily run to Netgalley looking for ... but I'm Native American, so this anthology of Native American voices made me really happy to see. I'm looking forward to it. 

What have you been requesting from Netgalley lately? 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bisexual Characters in YA

Last week I wrote a very personal blog post about bisexuality and mentioned Far From You by Tess Sharpe as a book that had a very profound impact on me as a person.  I thought that today I might talk a little bit more about other YA books I've read (mostly recently!) featuring bisexual characters.  They aren't the only books I've read featuring bisexual main characters, obviously.  I just picked ones that I've read recently that I'd enjoyed reading.  This is not a comprehensive list of bisexual YA by any means! But having said that, I'm always on the look out for other well-represented YA books that feature bisexual characters though. So if you have recommendations, do hit me up either in the comments or on Twitter.

What I love is that there is this ...surge, almost, in bisexual characters in YA. Or perhaps I'm just becoming more aware of it? It's a possibility. Let's hope this continues.

Sophie in Far From You by Tess Sharpe

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, Sophie's character in Far From You was the first book that really made me sit up and take notice of the idea of bisexuality.  I loved the intensity of Sophie's connection to both Mina and David.  Everything just felt really honest and raw and painful in this story and I loved it all.

Harper in Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Girlhood by Cat Clarke is a wonderful story and I love the fact that Harper (and her roommate) are bisexual but while present in the story isn't the main focus of Girlhood at all.  I love that the diversity is there but that this book doesn't need to be a book about sexuality at all.  It's about friendship and grief with bisexual characters. And I admire the story more for being so.

Jordan in Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Again, in Noteworthy, Jordan's sexuality is brought up and is a thing that happens within the text ... but this also isn't a story about sexuality.  It's definitely an exploration of gender and race and socioeconomic differeces but also a book about boarding schools and performing arts and friendship and falling in love.  But I definitely appreciated that Jordan does explore her own sexuality within this book.  That she asked herself those questions and went there.

Aki in Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

On the other hand, we have Aki in Our Own Private Universe.  Who is determined to, instead of only thinking about her sexuality, to act on it in this summer spent in Mexico.  There she embarks on a summer fling with another girl.  While I didn't always love the three main characters in this book, what I did particularly love is that Aki does her research and looks into safe sex practices for women. And ends up talking very openly about sex.

Kyle in Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall

And finally we have Kyle from Been Here All Along who has the distinction of being the only male bisexual character on this list. I thought this was an utterly sweet story about two neighbours and best friends realising their feelings for each other. It also has a really interesting conversation within the text about if LGBT people owe it to anyone else to come out to them.  (spoiler: no) I just find conversations of this sort to be fascinating and I just want more of them. And more bisexual characters. For obvious reasons.

Have you any recommendations for books featuring (preferably main) characters in YA fiction?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

REVIEW: None of the Above by IW Gregorio

I was browsing Netgalley awhile back and came across None of the Above by IW Gregorio.  I'd not heard much about the book or read many reviews of it, but I requested it there and then because I thought it'd be intriguing to read and learn more about a character who is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) or intersex. It isn't something that I come across very much but I'm all about branching out and reading people's experiences, especially if they're very different from mine.  And None of the Above was very eye-opening for me.

There is a note at the back of my copy of the book from the author that states that the author does not have AIS that this isn't an #ownvoices novel but that they have had interactions with intersex people through their work.

None of the Above is about Kristin, a teenager who after having a very painful experience attempting sex with her boyfriend, visits a doctor and is informed, at the age of 18, that she is in fact intersex. She really struggles throughout the course of the book ...on edge about who she is, her own identity and where she fits into the world again when she had no questions before. Before she was an ordinary teenager with friends, family, a boyfriend and is on her way to university.  Now she's left wondering if her boyfriend will still love her, if her friends will stick by her, if her dad will cope.

There was also several interesting actual intersex people brought up within the book, notably Caster Semenya, who like Kristin are involved in athletics and have had similar issues raised against their gender. But also positive role models who have helped pave the way for more intersex awareness and education.

I found it really difficult to read Kristin's story in parts, particularly in the beginning. The beginning half of the book feels very much like a Mean Girls sort of story as Kristin's condition is leaked to the school, bullying occurs, people in Kristin's life turn away from her.  But ultimately this book is very much a hopeful story of identity and acceptance.

I very much enjoyed Kristin's journey. I love that she finds a community to where she fits in and belongs as well as finding support within her family and friendship circles. None of the Above isn't always an easy book to read but I found it enlightening and an important book to read.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


E's first day of primary school

A couple of weeks ago it was E's last day of Year 6. Which means his last day of primary school. And if I'm honest, I'm not sure I was ready for it. Sometimes I look at E and I can see it all, in layers. Him as a newborn, a baby, a toddler, a pre-schooler, a little kid.  And there are all these memories that go with that. The funny things he's said or done, how his sense of humour has evolved over the past 11 and a bit years. The way his mind works, the way he pairs together knowledge in his own ways. I look at him and I see all of that.

So I get it. I know he's growing up, I know he's off to secondary school in September. And I'm sure he'll want to be ever more independent after that.  Already he's pushing the boundaries of some of the rules we've put in place for him, questioning my authority.  I figure this is the time he'll do it.  And I'm not upset that he's growing up.  Just, it's hard.  Not only because it feels like I'm no longer needed, sometimes because I know I'm not ready to let him go and survive secondary school in the way only he can. I'm sure most parents in my position felt the same way.  But also, I lost my dad this year. So while I know I'm not losing E, I am losing some of him.  He's getting to a place where I'm not quite as important as when he was little, I'm not the centre of his universe.  And even that loss makes me feel a little weepy.

E on his final day of Year 6
He's my little boy growing up so quickly.  And I know he'll love (and probably hate) secondary school.  He's excited about it. The new opportunities, the delving into subjects further, the independence it will bring.  And he's smart and funny and witty and I know he's up for that challenge. But, not gonna lie, this summer I will be holding him a little tighter. Just that little bit longer.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

REVIEW: The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas was a book that was talked about quite a lot a few months ago. I kept reading tweets or emails saying how much fun the main character is, how I'll fall in love with her, how others already had.  And I admit it, I fell for that hype. I wanted to meet Grace and see if she was everything I wanted her to be.

I think the thing that most drew me to The State of Grace is that this an #ownvoices book featuring autism representation and that was something that I was very excited about.  However, while I'm sure the representation of autism was pretty good ... I just didn't really connect with the story or with Grace as a character, unfortunately.  I wanted to love the story more than I did. But as disappointing as it is to admit, it was just okay for me.

This book follows the main character, Grace, during a rather chaotic time in her life.  Everything seems to be going well, until everything suddenly isn't.  Things are difficult at home with her father away on a business trip and her mum acting a little bit strangely. She ends up kissing a boy, Gabe, and her sister is going off the rails a little bit.  And Grace has Asperger's and sees the world differently to everyone else.

I think the author did a great job in letting us as readers know what Grace needs in terms of managing her autism with structure and routine because of how overwhelming life becomes for Grace. She also does a great job in depicting Grace's parents.  Her mum in particular bears the brunt of being the person responsible for making things better for Grace but that responsibility comes with its own price tag.  I also really liked Grace and Gabe as potential love interests. Both are a little bit sweet and awkward which makes them both all the more endearing.

I wish I could explain in words better why this book didn't work for me as I wanted it to? It was fairly quick to read, it had aspects of the story line that I really enjoyed. However, that spark that I was expecting from this book just wasn't there for me, personally. But that's just me.  Perhaps you'll love this book as much as the dozens of other readers and their reviews that I've seen.  I hope you do.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Ayisha Malik on A Refuge in A Change Is Gonna Come #ChangeBook

I'm so happy and honoured to be today's blog tour post for MY favourite book of the year so far, A Change Is Gonna Come. This is an anthology published by 12 BAME authors: 8 already established authors and 4 debut for a YA audience. I loved the mix of genres and topics that each author chose to cover and I really think there is something in this anthology for everyone.

I absolutely jumped at the chance to host a blog tour stop for this book, especially one from Ayisha Malik, author of Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged and The Other Half of Happiness. Her story, A Refuge, is a story of friendship and empathy and I adored it.  Over to you, Ayisha...

There are certain memories that linger more than others, evoking a rather strong feeling, capturing a part of the past you call upon when feeling reflective. I think often about my visit to the Calais refugee camp. I went a few times; the first time because I was in Paris for a month and it felt like an omission of conscience not to; the second time because, selfishly, I wanted to recreate the first experience. I went again a year later, this time taking a bunch of friends, because I wanted them to feel what I had felt.

The thing about volunteering is that you take away from it far more than you give. Because of this, sometimes people’s lack of empathy can confuse me – although it’s an emotional thing, it feels almost illogical. I wanted to write a story about how someone is changed through their experience at a refugee camp, not because of this condescending idea of helping others, but because of the impact it can have on you. Even volunteering is a selfish act, but my character, Sabrina, is forced to do so by her parents. I wanted to focus on the unexpected relationships that can be formed in places where there is tragedy; how intense they can be, yet how transient. Her relationship with Homa in some ways reflects the redeeming nature of friendship, however short-lived it might be. Sabrina, like so many of us, is lonely and suffers feelings of emotional displacement, not least because her parents are always at each other’s throat. So, it felt fitting that I should put my character in a situation where her life is mirrored by someone who is physically displaced.

It’s often in the worst of situations that you’ll be able to see the best of humanity. For me, visiting the camp and writing this story just reminded me of the lessons we can teach each other about resilience, defiance and, most importantly, hope.

Thank you, Ayisha! Do follow Ayisha on Twitter and check out the other #ChangeBook blog tour stops listed below! A Change Is Gonna Come is published by Stripes Publishing on 10th August. 

REVIEW: A Change Is Gonna Come by Various

A Change Is Gonna Come the anthology of short stories and poems written by 12 BAME authors and published by Stripes Publishing is my favourite book of the year so far.  I hoped it'd be great when I first heard of it and I had high expectations for it, for sure.  But I wasn't quite prepared for how important and inspiring it'd be until I finally sat down to read it.

I loved it so very much.

I think there was just something special about reading so many stories in one collection with people of colour as protagonists. Like, I didn't even realise how emotional that would make me.  Because it's so very much not what I'm used to.  Being mixed-race has meant that so often I don't see myself in the books that I read and it isn't until I come across a book like this that these strong feelings come out.  And this book is such a celebration. I felt weepy reading it. But also inspired. Each of the short stories and poems in this book were really well-written and providing such a wonderful emotional arc within not very many pages.  I love how empowering this book felt, how emotional it is, how important it is.

Aside from it being a collection of short stories and the occasional poem about people of colour, the first story is also about a girl with OCD and the story by Tanya Byrne is about lesbians.  And I cheered at this. Both mentally and probably literally when I read that. I want more intersectional stories in my life. I need them.

While a lot of the stories were contemporary there was also some magical realism in there, a story about time travel and kind of a dystopian read, Catherine Johnson's story is inspired by actual historical events. And I liked that things got changed up like that. That each of the authors had their own visions for 'change' and what that means.  Some of the stories centred around race issues: Nikesh Shukla's story is about a friendship falling apart after Brexit; Ayisha Malik's story is about visiting the Calais refugee camp.  I thought it was great that this book took into account such current events but also that the stories balanced out being serious and playful whilst all being hopeful at the same time.

There aren't that many books about or by people of colour in the UK right now.  So this book feels like such a necessity. Representation matters.  People of all ages need to see themselves in books.  I hope A Change Is Gonna Come signals actual change amongst publishing in this country. I, for one, read this absolutely amazing anthology and I felt utterly inspired.