Monday, July 10, 2017

REVIEW: Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally

The word that comes up the most in my head when I'm reading a book by Miranda Kenneally is 'consistent.'  All of her books are so wonderfully (and consistently!) relate-able and readable and engaging. I believe that Coming Up For Air is the 8th book in the Hundred Oaks series all of which are mildly interconnected and involve sporty women in the same town or sometimes school.  And I've loved every single one of the books in this series that I've read.  They're all very much about sports, identity and romance and I adore that winning combination!

In Coming Up For Air, the main character is Maggie. And she feels like all she does is sleep, eat, study and swim. And she doesn't usually have a problem with that ... all of her efforts have gone into getting into a good university with a good swimming team and she's hoping that she'll get a trial for the Olympic team. Going out for dinner with her friends on a Friday, including Levi, who already has an Olympic trial, is about the only 'normal' teenage thing Maggie does.  And when she gets a glimpse of more normal teenage experiences (though, I'd say HILARIOUS as opposed to NORMAL!) Maggie starts to question if she's missed out at all by not going to parties or hooking up with boys. Will a friends with benefits thing with Levi be just what Maggie needs?

I really loved this book for going into detail about what it's like to be a competitive swimmer. My dad was a competitive swimmer, and I was on a swimming team for several years so a lot of Maggie's experiences came with a hint of nostalgia for me.  But I did, I just loved the details of Maggie's life: spending time at the pool, the focus and determination it takes to be up that early to get swimming practice in, the hits to her social life, the amount of food is required to keep her mobile after all the swimming, how tired she is by 8-9pm. I was pretty in awe of Maggie and Levi's willpower and dedication, really.

The other aspect to the story that I thought was interesting is the way in which a rival competitor of Maggie's plays sort of mind-games with her in order to get Maggie to slip in her focus whilst swimming.  It felt like something that people involved in such competitive activities would possibly resort to and I liked the way in which we witness Maggie reacting to it and also working out ways to block such negativity.

But, understandable that Maggie hasn't ever had the experiences other girls her age have had. I also really love a friends-to-more story line.  I find them the sweetest. Because there's all this history already there and somehow Maggie and Levi have to rearrange what they know about the other person into this different way.

But, romance aside, this book (as other by Miranda Kenneally) seems also to heavily feature elements of identity.  Maggie is all about beating her personal times in backstroke and doing well in particular in this specific event  ... because who would she be without this?  And ultimately, I loved her realisation that there is more to her and her life than one single thing.  As always, a huge pleasure to read another book in the Hundred Oaks series!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

REVIEW: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Cat Clarke is definitely one of my favourite authors. I love her characters and relationships and I'll always be excited to read more of her stories.  Just as I was excited to read Girlhood especially with the boarding school element to it.

While Girlhood didn't quite reach the emotional impact as some of the author's previous stories there is still so much emotion in this book and a lot to love about it.

My top five reasons to love this story include (but aren't limited to)

1) the boarding school element
2) an addition to the first reason is that this boarding school is set in this Scottish wilderness, which makes it that little bit more ...wild?
3) the friendships, which I think is what keeps drawing me back to Cat Clarke's stories
4) the issues that this book tackles including an eating disorder, grief, guilt and also ...gaslighting
5) the diversity of the characters including sexuality, race and differing economic backgrounds.

What even is it about boarding school stories that are such a pull to me and to so many other readers? They're just so addictive to read and the boarding school within Girlhood is no exception. Here are a bunch of girls all living together away from their parents, having this little bit of freedom and independence. And I think the fact that this is a boarding school in Scotland and in this particular location makes it even more fun.  Because of that there are secret caves and spooky nooks and crannies within the building, ghost stories that can be pulled out to scare.

The main character in Girldhood is Harper.  She's come to Duncraggan Academy for a new start.  She's still haunted by the death of her twin sister, Jenna and Harper still carries feelings of both grief and guilt for her part in Jenna's death. But she's found a great, close group of friends and things seem mostly okay ...until the arrival of new girl, Kirsty Connor, shakes things up.

As I said, one of my favourite elements to this story are the friendships.  Harper's friends are pretty amazing: supportive and togethery and you can tell immediately how much they mean to Harper. But you can see with the arrival of Kirsty that cracks start appearing in Harper's friendship group.  But can it be so easy to destroy a friendship?  I'd also not heard that much about gas-lighting before, the manipulative tricks that are employed to cause unease and self-doubt.  I thought it was interestingly done in Girlhood.  It kept me reading and wanting to know more. But I also loved that this is a book not only about the slow destruction of friendships but about building new ones and building on existing friendships.

And finally, thank you to Cat Clarke for writing diversity into this book without having it be a thing in the book.  There are bisexual characters in this book and people of colour but these things are secondary to the main plot line.  I love that.  The only bit I will mention specifically is that Harper does struggle in coming from a middle class background and adjusting into a community mostly made up of far wealthier classmates and friends even though her own circumstances had changed to match those of her friends.  And I found that particularly interesting.

I really enjoyed Girlhood.  It was tense and engaging and I really do recommend it!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

REVIEW: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

Oh wow. I absolutely adored A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstom. I had only read the author's debut book, Not If I See You First, earlier this year and I loved that too. So I requested A Tragic Kind of Wonderful based on the strength of his first book.  But when I found out that his new book is about a girl with bipolar disorder? I was immediately intrigued.  Books involving mental illnesses are amongst my favourite and I wanted to see how Eric Lindstrom would tackle the subject.  The result? was this wonderful, messy glimpse into Mel's life.

I say 'messy' because there's so much going on in this book.  It's obviously about Mel and Mel has bipolar disorder.  And while I loved the representation of that aspect of her life, I also really loved that the author explored Mel's life in so much other detail without it being too much, too heavy or too confusing to follow so many different strands to the story.

Because not only does Mel have bipolar disorder (that she was only diagnosed with recently!)  but she's also dealing with the grief of losing her older brother several years ago.  She's fallen out with her previous circle of friends once she was diagnosed because of her fear of them rejecting her but she's got a new set of friends now and she's wondering if she should admit her condition to them or risk losing them like the last bunch?  She's got kind of a complicated relationship within her family, especially with her aunt who also has bipolar disorder and a much different view of living with this illness.  AND! she meets a cute boy through one of the residents of the retirement home where she works. I loved how all the elements of this story are pulled together, I love that Eric Lindstrom provides this great, realistic glimpse into Mel's life, including all of the complications. Real life is messy and complicated and Mel's story reflects that.  And I hugely appreciated that.

Obviously bipolar is something that features strongly in this book.  Something that is brought up in this book which I hadn't seen before is this middle bit of bipolar which is in between the depressive episodes and the mania (the highs and lows!) and I don't think I've seen that written about or explored the way this book did.  Mel begins each chapter by comparing different aspects of her condition (mood, heart rate etc) with different animals and through the four different elements works out what type of state she's in and I found it all to be quite fascinating.  She's also seeing a therapist and I loved sitting in on some of those appointments.  Throughout the book, Mel also brings up her thoughts on medication and her Aunt has an opposing view which provided an interesting contrast.

There are some incredibly emotional aspects of the book that I felt were down to the great characterisation and also the great relationships.  In particular, I loved Mel's relationship with her aunt just because they're so different and it was interesting to me to see two people with bipolar but had such wildly differing experiences and opinions on how to deal with this disorder.  I also loved David, the love interest.  There's a great mini-story line that includes a toxic relationship which I found intriguing but I think my favourite relationships, by far, included Mel's relationships with the people that she works with in the retirement home. Silver Sands retirement home had some wonderful characters and Mel's friendship with retired psychiatrist, Dr. Oswald had me in tears.

This is such a wonderful book.  I loved so many elements of this book that I feel like I could talk endlessly about this book.  But I won't. I will just recommend it very highly!

Saturday, July 01, 2017

June Wrap-Up

I haven't done a monthly wrap-up like this since January ... mostly because hardly any reading and no blogging was done during that time. But June was different. June felt like a turning point.  I challenged myself to clearing my Netgalley shelf and then I thought I'd set myself another challenge of reading some summery contemporary books.  And seems to have worked.  I feel like myself again, getting back into reading. And I definitely feel like I'm finding my feet again with the blogging lately too. Though there are still other things I'd like to do more/better in that area and also get back into uploading video content to my channel and to Bookish Brits. But one thing at a time, I think.  But a quiet hooray for right now for what I have accomplished already! (Also? how is it July already?!)

Books read in June

1. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
2. One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
3. Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally
4. The Jungle by Pooja Puri
5. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
6. Girlhood by Cat Clarke
7. Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott
8. White Egrets by Derek Walcott
9. The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas
10. None of the Above by IW Gregorio
11. Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall
12. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
13. Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley
14. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
15. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
16. Everything Beautiful Is Not Broken by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Total read in June: 16
Total read in 2017: 59

...Look at me go! 16 books read this month is an amazing achievement for me.  I also love the variety of books I've been reading Thought these are all YA books aside from the two poetry books, there is a wide range of subjects that the books have covered from refugees, grief, sexuality, boarding schools and fandom.  I'm happy with what I've read this month and long may it continue.

June Book of the month

The first book I read this month, The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, ended up being my favourite.  I loved the diversity included in the book, the development of the characters, the friendships, the family relationships, the unravelling of secrets.  It was a very highly charged emotional read for me and I just plain adored it.

Books reviewed in June

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
The Jungle by Pooja Puri

Not bad on the reviewing this month! That's 6 more reviews on this blog than we've seen in awhile, right?! I do have more reviews lined up though, so keep watching this space in July! It's been kind of an uphill struggle getting the right balance between reading books and writing my reviews.  I currently still have 7 book reviews to write and schedule on this blog and sometimes it feels like I'll never get caught up ... but I will. Eventually. 

Other posts in June

Love Month Recap
Netgalley Reading
Happy Father's Day
Happiness List
New Additions to My Netgalley Shelf

These non-review posts are my favourite to write.  I find reviews are ...easy and expected on a book blog. But I am much more interested in finding the time to discuss books in a different way or adding in more of a personal element to my blog posts.  So, again, keep an eye out for some different non-review type posts coming more often on this blog in the future!

Booktube videos in June

Help Michelle With A Reading Challenge

Boo. Had hoped to get around to uploading something MORE this month than just the one video ... alas. Will add that to my to-do list in July. Someone remind me, yeah?

And if you have any specific requests or suggestions for future videos you'd like to see (or the other members of Bookish Brits!) do, then please let me know.

My progress in reading challenges:

British Books Challenge

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
The Jungle by Pooja Puri
Girlhood by Cat Clarke
Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott
The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

Total in June: 5
Total in 2017: 18

Not bad on the British Books Challenge reading this month! I like that it's a mixture of different type of stories included in this list. From grief-stricken Italian adventures to refugees, boarding schools and autism representation.  Because #UKYA is amazing and brings us all the things.  Plus? Poetry. Because I adore my poetry.

Read My Own Books 

I did horrifically on this personal challenge this month as I'm currently still only able to read e-books with any regularity and consistency. So as long as that continues, I'll be putting this challenge on hold. In fact, the only  physical books I read this month was Geekerella and Love and Gelato and both were sent for review. Still, there are more important things in the world and I'm just so happy to be reading and blogging again! Because I'm sappy. 


The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally
The Jungle by Pooja Puri
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas
None of the Above by IW Gregorio

I've spent a lot of this month working on my Netgalley shelf! I've raised my feedback ratio percentage quite a bit (It's now at 94%) however I did request three books this month too, which I've already written about previously on this blog. 

What have you been reading and loving in June?

Friday, June 30, 2017

New Additions to My Netgalley Shelf

So, you'll remember that earlier this month I set myself a Netgalley reading challenge in order to clear down the 10 books I had on my Netgalley shelf.  I didn't end up doing a wrap-up post of that challenge, but I managed to read 7 of the books on my list, I DNF'd another which left me at the end of the challenge with two e-books left still to read: 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (an adult book and seemingly 1000 pages long which is why I keep putting it off!) and also Flight of A Starling by Lisa Heathfield, which I didn't read because the last book by her that I read (Paper Butterflies!) was such an emotional punch to the gut that I didn't read another thing for a literal month after I'd finished it.  So sure, I'm a little nervous about starting another book by her!

So, I'm pretty pleased with that result, to be honest.  I have a great review percentage ratio (94%) and I feel like two books on my shelf is pretty manageable ... so of course I've been requesting more Netgalley books to make up for all the progress I've made lately.  And just to keep myself accountable, I thought I'd share with you here the new books to my Netgalley shelf in the hopes that by admitting them, I'll get them read sooner rather than later. We shall see if this plan works.  If not, here are three amazing sounding books that I really recommend you request on Netgalley if you already haven't.  Or look out for them when they're published in August/September!

Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (7th September, Andersen)

Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote.

Evelyn is seventeen, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women's freedom.

May is fifteen, and already sworn to the cause, though she and her fellow Suffragists refuse violence. When she meets Nell, a girl who's grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women have their place.

But the fight for freedom will challenge Evelyn, May and Nell more than they ever could believe. As war looms, just how much are they willing to sacrifice?

I'm not even always that keen on historical fiction like this should be and I've always thought of Sally Nicholls as a writer for younger teens/MG and this looks older, so that's interesting.  I just cannot pass up a suffragette story, especially not a suffragette story with two girls in love. I am so here for that kind of story. 

A Change Is Gonna Come by Various (10 August, Stripes)

Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla.

Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.

I've been excited about this book right from the beginning. I was amongst many at the beginning of the year who were bemoaning the lack of authors of colour being published here in the UK.  More so needs to be done but I really applaud Stripes Publishing for championing this book and giving these established authors as well as a new crop of young, unpublished authors this platform.  Plus, that is a wonderful, eye-catching cover that I adore. Heart eyes. 

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (7th September, Bloomsbury)

'They think I hurt someone. 
But I didn't. You hear?
Coz people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.'

Joe hasn't seen his brother for ten years, and it's for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed's execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think ...

From one-time winner and two-time Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this poignant, stirring, huge-hearted novel asks big questions. What value do you place on life? What can you forgive? And just how do you say goodbye?

I requested Moonrise before I even read what the synopsis is about.  Because Sarah Crossan is just one of those authors that I trust to deliver a well-written, emotional story.  And now that I DO know what this book is about? I'm all set for my heart to get trampled over. Bring it. 

What exciting books have caught your eye lately?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Jungle by Pooja Puri

The Jungle by Pooja Puri was a really interesting read. It felt difficult to read at times but I also felt like it needed to be read.  Because this is a book about the Calais refugee camp.  And as we follow the main character, Mico, through his day-to-day struggles we get a heartbreaking glimpse into the lives and experiences of the refugees.

There wasn't much of a plot to The Jungle.  But I'm not sure it matters so much.  At the heart of the book is 16 year old Mico, who left his family and home in the search of something better, opportunities not available to him in his home country.  And what he finds is The Jungle. He's one of the youngsters of the camp, with no adults to protect him but he does end up sharing a tent with two adult men and the three of them do share food and look out for each other.

You get a good sense whilst reading The Jungle of what life is like in this refugee camp.  There are a lack of resources, the living conditions aren't great, there are too many people. There's almost a sense of hopelessness, a sense of resignation.  But there's also a spark there, a fire.  Mico is dead-set on finding away out of this camp.  And he'll try just about anything to be free.  At the start of the novel he's attempting to steal from the 'Ghost Men' who control more than they should of the movements of people within The Jungle.  Further along in the story, he attempts a deadly jump onto a moving train.  But it's the arrival of Leila and the subsequent friendship between her and Mico that really builds Mico's hope.

This book was definitely a difficult book to read. But I think my favourite aspect of the story is that through Mico's travels he comes across many different people all in the same situation.  With different backgrounds and all with their own stories to tell, with their own terrors and traumas that they're faced with.  And I thought it was important to be present and read such stories. Though the Calais Refugee Camp has since been shut down and the refugees have been resettled elsewhere this is still a very topical issue and concern across many countries.  And more needs to be done.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Never was there a more adorable book than When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I heard it would be cute ...but until I read it I didn't quite believe it could be as cute as it was.  Believe the hype on this one, it really is hugely adorable.

I think the thing that really hooked me into reading this book is ... how on earth are they going to sell an arranged marriage in this day and age as something relevant?  I usually think of arranged marriages as something kind of outdated, something our parents might have done (and N's parents did have an arranged marriage!) So I thought Sandya Menon really had her work cut out for her trying to make Dimple and Rishi and the idea of an arranged marriage between two teenagers in the 21st century fit into this fun contemporary YA story believable.  And I'm absolutely sure that it was managed!  I just ...fell utterly and entirely in love with this story and I'm so glad that I've read it.

So this story is about Dimple, an Indian American girl in the summer before university who is about to head off to a summer programme for coders.  Her parents don't really get her and she's so shocked and surprised that they're so accepting of this summer programme but Dimple is just so grateful and relieved to be going to it that she just takes her parents' approval all kind of at face-value. ...Until she meets Rishi. And it all falls into place.  Because Rishi is the epitome of a Good Indian Husband that Dimple's mom keeps hinting at.  And when Rishi proposes there and then, Dimple reckons this summer couldn't get any worse...

I love, love, love this story. I'm not sure that I can convey that enough.  Because I love Dimple.  She's so driven and ambitious and she's working so hard to go against what she thinks is her parents' outdated concepts of being a woman and wearing make-up and needing a man in her life.  She's gone to this summer programme with the intention of winning and meeting her idol and getting a head start on what she really wants out of life: independence and a career she's passionate about. But ...being partnered with Rishi on a project means spending more time with him and realising that there's more to him than just being her mother's idea of Good Husband Material.

And I think Rishi is the highlight of the book for me.  He's definitely a bit of an enigma at first. He's really into the idea of an arranged marriage, and has traditional ideas of what he wants out of life.  But he's also kind and funny and says the most amazingly sarcastic things to people in such a friendly manner that it can be a bit misleading.  You can tell he wants to please his parents and his family and I love that with Dimple's influence Rishi is able to see that there are things he wants for himself too rather than remaining down the practical routes his parents have laid out for him.

This book was ridiculously cute.  It was funny, it was sweet and romantic. I loved the build-up in this relationship between Dimple and Rishi. I love that it's very much a romance story but also has a great stance on gender and culture and privilege.  All my love for this book!

Monday, June 26, 2017

REVIEW: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

I was really looking forward to reading Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse. About a girl who has just one more week of living in Tokyo before moving back the US for good. In that time she falls out with her friends, works out some family issues, falls in love and says good bye to a city she adores.

I'm a huge fan of Japan and I was always going to be excited to read a book which felt like it might be a love letter to Tokyo ... and Seven Days of You definitely did feel like that at times.  I loved reading about Sophia and her friends traipsing around Tokyo, hanging out, seeing the sights, visiting their favourite places one last time.  I kind of loved them travelling around on public transit and stopping in convenience stores to pick up their favourite Japanese snacks and stuff. It was all so mundane but those details were what I loved the most.

I found it slightly weird that none of them seemed to speak Japanese and none of the characters were Japanese at all? Minor quibble though, I suppose but it just felt like this realistic, or nah?

I particularly liked the family strife. With the dad in Paris and having another family and the back and forth about whether or not Sophia would live with him.  Also, Sophia's sister is definitely a highlight for me.  But I think the main emotional thrust to the story revolves around the romantic dramas.  With Sophia's unrequited crush on David and this thing that resurfaces once former friend and crush, Jamie comes back to Japan.

I really did enjoy this book ... but for whatever reason, the way it was written? my own personal preference? I didn't feel myself being as emotionally affected to the highs and lows of this story.  I wanted to be fully on board with everything that happened and riding that emotional wave along with Sophia ... I just wasn't.  Still, solid read.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Happiness List

All right, so the other week I'm having lunch with my book club, which I do approximately every 6 weeks or so.  They're some of my absolute favourite people (more on my club soon, I hope!) so I'm quite comfortable around them.  Anyway, we're talking about possible future books to read and one of the books mention is something along the lines of Something Something Bucket List. And one of the ladies says that SHE has compiled her own bucket list of things to do including facing her fears and doing things she's always wanted to do.  And I told her ...I have a list like that too, only I call it my Happiness List.  I started telling her some of the things on my list and she did respond 'sweetie, that's a bucket list.'

...But I don't like calling it a bucket list.  A bucket list sounds too morbid for my liking.  I don't like the idea of doing anything because death is just but a moment away and I should get the stuff done because other the Grim Reaper will come calling. No, I prefer to think of it as a Happiness List because I feel like that's my goal: happiness.  Especially now where I feel like this year has sapped me of so much happiness.  The loss of my father, the loss of a close friend, other things that have been very emotionally challenging.  I think I need to inject happiness wherever I can.  So this list, which I've shared below are some of the areas I'd like to concentrate on or am already concentrating on.  I hope to write a little bit more on this blog about some of my experiences with these things!

Job - Pretty self-explanatory, I need a job. I need one pretty desperately at this point!

French - Last year I completed the duolingo course for Spanish and this year I would like to complete the French course.  I find I love learning languages.  Who's to stop my from learning Italian or German next, eh?!

Piano - One of my biggest ...I don't want to say 'regrets' but I guess regrets is that I'm unable to play a musical instrument.  I've always wanted to learn and there's no reason why I cannot start now, right?

Lose Weight - I think since E was born it's been on my to-do list to lose weight.  First it was 10 pounds. Then I had another child and it became 20 pounds.  And then I recently checked my BMI (I know BMI can be wildly inaccurate but it's still a rough guideline) and realised I was 30 pounds heavier than the recommended weight for my height.

De-clutter - This one seems rather ...easy. Like something that could involve an hour's worth of time and a bin bag. However this is the most time-consuming item on this list perhaps.  Because what I mean by 'de-clutter' is really put everything in its place in my house. To get rid of unnecessary things. To start and complete projects in the house. I'm making progress on this one but ...ugh. There's always something more, isn't there?

Origami - This is just a fun thing to balance out some of the more serious/hard tasks I've put to myself.  A friend of mine who works with the local library is into origami and I think there are classes held in one of the nearby libraries? I really should look into it more.  Origami was on my list of activities to do with the boys last summer but we tried it once afternoon and couldn't get along with the instructions we had. But with a little bit of guidance, I think it could be really fun!

Sew Own Dress - I think this one stems from this amazing Harry Potter dress that I bought once at Comic Con.  It's a fabulous dress and I love it. But I bought it and I thought 'I'd like to make my own dress like this' ...and I never have.  It's been on my mind for years.  Now is the time.  I have a book with some ideas and suggestions, I have access to a sewing machine and some knowledgeable friends and family who can help me out. So no excuses anymore!

Learn more - I'd like to learn more about subjects that interest me. Like history and art history.  I'd like to pick an area of interest and ...just go with it. Read up on it, be inspired.

Reading Blogging Booktubing - Reading and being a book blogger are two important elements of my identity. When my dad was ill and then when he died I felt sort of ...frozen. I felt unable to do the things I loved and I put them on hold.  But I like being a reader. I like being a book blogger and a booktuber.  I'd like to get back into and discover my love for these things again.  I'm on the right track and I don't want to push myself at all. But I hope slowly, with time, I'll get there. Fingers crossed.

Final Cut Pro - Recently (several years ago, actually) N and I bought a Mac. And one of the things we bought to go along with it was a version of Final Cut Pro that I wanted to use in order to make better booktube videos .... and I never quite got around to learning how to use it. And I should. I want to. I will.

Self Defence class - Since I was a teenager, I've been wanting to take a self defence class and yet I never have. I think it's about time.

Write - I obviously write a bit ... mostly blog posts on this blog. But I'd like to write more. Poetry. Possibly some short stories.  Something.

There are probably other things I should or could add to this list.  My happiness list has mostly been a shifting thing that I've juggled in my head.  This is one of the first times that I've properly written it down for my own record.

What would be on your happiness list? 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

REVIEW: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Robin Talley is one of those authors where I read one amazing book by her, Lies We Tell Ourselves, and then got increasingly excited for anything she writes after that (I have two more of her books unread on my shelves that I bought almost without knowing the premise of the stories). And while there are definitely elements of Our Own Private Universe that I really, really loved ... there were also elements to this story that I really didn't.

Our Own Private Universe is set during the summer in Mexico. The main character, Aki, is spending the summer with her youth church group doing odd jobs for a community in Mexico. She's sort of hoping that this summer is the summer that Aki will stop living hypothetically and will start actually living. Including putting to the test her own bisexuality. Which she feels is the right label for her ... but how does she really know without ever kissing a girl? or anything else?

Let's start with the things I didn't quite love first... I didn't much care for the characters or their interactions with each other. Mainly the three main characters, Aki and her best friend, Lori and Aki's love interest for the summer, Christa.  I felt like there was so much ...pettiness and arguing and keeping secrets and just needless drama then there needed to be. I felt weighed down by it in the end. The ridiculous lies told, the keeping of important truths.  All three of them were guilty of it and I'm not sure how necessary it was? Sure, every story needs conflict but was this just over the top conflict for the sake of having conflict?  I can't tell. But all this extra drama also made me question the ages of these girls. They felt much younger which made me feel uncomfortable. Shame this was quite pervasive throughout the story.

Moving on.  What I did love, I really loved, as I said.  The first is the exploration of Aki's sexuality.  I've never read a YA book that discussed safe sex practices amongst lesbians in the way Our Own Private Universe did.  And then (slight spoiler alert) to have a character educate herself on the risks involved in lesbian sex, obtain dental dams and rubber gloves, and then use them was pretty exceptional to me. It felt important and worthy to see this carried out and being discussed.

I also loved the exploration of faith within a multicultural environment and the ways in which teenagers in general combine their own faiths with that of sexuality in particular. One of the things that is brought up and is a very main story line are quite political discussions that are being brought up amongst the church community to agree on.  And I loved that quite a lot of this story line revolves around the political engagement of young people on a vast array of socially important subjects from same sex marriage to armed police, war, and health care in struggling nations such as Mexico.  I loved seeing how passionate everyone got and it really made my heart soar to see so many teenagers rally around these subjects and want their voices to be heard, wanting to educate about certain topics.  The youth will save us.

So all in all, kind of a mixed bag on this one. I wanted to love it more than I did but felt letdown by the childishness and dramatics of the main characters. BUT! there was enough amongst the rest of the story to keep me reading. And perhaps, who knows? You might enjoy it too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

I had high hopes for reading The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord. Especially after reading her previous book, When We Collided last year and loving it.  Usually high expectations usually leave me a little wary for starting a book ... but I jumped straight in with this one. And I'm pretty sure it'll end up being one of my favourite books of the year.

I just felt like there were so many elements to this story that I loved so much. I loved the main character, Lucy. I loved her relationship with her parents (but especially her mother). I loved the aspect of faith that is brought up in the book and also the stereotypes that are smashed. I loved that this book is primarily set at summer camp (summer camp!) and the levels of diversity that appear (race, sexuality, gender, mental illness, differing economic backgrounds and experiences).  I loved the friendships, the romantic elements of it. I just had tears right up to the end and I could have read Emery Lord's words and Lucy's story for far longer if I could.

Lucy herself is pretty great. There's so much growth going on with her in this book.  She starts off being a little ...rigid in who she is. A schedule, a plan. A perfect boyfriend, a summer planned at religious camp with her parents.  But then Lucy's mother's cancer reappears and Lucy's life is completely shaken up.  Her faith is tested and her mom asks Lucy to be a counsellor at a camp for troubled teens this summer and Lucy cannot refuse her mom anything. Plus, her boyfriend 'pauses' their relationship for the summer.

So begins this momentous summer. I love that Lucy is very much sheltered at the beginning of this book and her privilege has kept her so.  I even love that she shows off some of her judgey ways like when confronted with a teen girl at this new camp who is pregnant and ...Lucy has all her pre-conceived notions handed back to her throughout the course of the story. I also loved the other counsellors and how much passion they put into caring for the campers, doing what's right by them, fighting for their corners.

I was amazed by how emotional this story is.  With the cancer, but also other family secrets. The agony of falling in love, finding that circle of friends where you belong and be accepted, the stories of the campers.  I truly loved this book.

Monday, June 19, 2017

REVIEW: One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

I downloaded One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton off Netgalley awhile back and after mentioning it on Twitter, I got a message from the author. She very kindly informed me that One Italian Summer is very much a book about grief and she knew of the losses I've faced this year.  But when I finally sat down to tackle some of my Netgalley reading this year ... this is the book that I gravitated towards anyway.  I think I wanted to read a book about loss and grief, if only to see if these characters felt at all like how I felt.  It felt like there could be comfort in that as well as heartbreak.

And you know what? I really loved this book.  It is a book about loss and grief. It's a book about struggling to move on from it.  It's also a book  about sisters and kissing and it's set in Italy and is about figuring out important life stuff.  I liked how it was about all of that.  Plus, it just felt like a comfort.  The main character in One Italian Summer is Millie. She's got two sisters, Leonie and Elyse and their dad died the previous year. They're all headed off to Italy where they have so many memories and family history involving their dad and the entire family are dealing with his death in their own ways.

I loved Millie and her sisters. They felt so real to me. The way they bicker with each other, the way Leonie is pretty gross. The closeness, the teasing, the secrets. I think I'll always love books involving sisters, which is sort of weird as I don't have sisters of my own. But I feel like if I did, they'd be like these three girls.  My only sort of complaint about the book though is that I couldn't actually tell until much later in the book how old each of the girls were until it specifically mentions it halfway to three quarters of the way through. Sometimes it felt like Leonie and Elyse were maybe twins? Sometimes it felt like Leonie was way younger than the other two and I had to keep readjusting my mental image of them all when I came across new scraps of information regarding age.

In terms of the grief aspects of the book, I kind of loved that this book is set a year after their dad dies. So often stories like this are told sooner when the loss is more sudden, the grief more raw. But I liked that the sisters' feelings are a year old. And still painful, still able to cause heartache. It's a year on and Millie's mum is still kind of vacant and using work to hide from facing up to her feelings. There were things said about their dad that made me hurt.  The silly little stories they remembered, the made-up words, the special moments shared between them all. The not wanting to let go. They end up talking to people that their dad knew before and one of the girls gets all excited about a story that isn't very exciting ... but it's something new that they didn't know before. And I completely relate to that feeling. I know what that excitement is like.

I also, of course loved Millie's complicated relationship with Luke. Someone she had history with from the previous summer and now they're both thrown together in the same place and don't know what to do about each other. I loved that delicious awkwardness at first, that underlying embarrassment together with yearning anyway. And Italy! How have I not mentioned Italy as yet?! Italy has to be one of my favourite places ever and reading about Rome and Positano made me want to visit all over again.

I'm sorry for the scattiness of this review. I'm out of practice. But if you couldn't tell, I did love this book. And I very much recommend it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Since my dad died earlier this year, I've found it really difficult to blog again. I just ... I feel really sad still. Obviously I haven't lived with him for years now. So it isn't even walking into a room and expecting to see him or anything.  But it's still so many little things that feel like stabs to my heart when I remember them or they pop into my head. I got on a plane a couple months ago and I nearly laugh-cried remembering the time we flew somewhere together and the flight attendant lost control over the drinks trolley and it went barrelling down the aisle and my dad looks back and sees it and yells 'OH SHIT' just before it hit his seat and a can of Sprite exploded all over him. I pick up the phone sometimes and feel like answering 'Joey's Pizzeria, how can I help?' like he used to do sometimes just for the giggles.

I  sometimes find it hard to talk about him with other people though.  I guess I feel like only people who have lost their dads can understand. ...because so many people make comments that make it seem like things should be easier for me by now.  He died in February, that gives me 4 months to properly grieve, right, and now it's time to move on... is sort of how I get the feeling other people think of it.  But I still find it hard. I think partially because things were pretty good when I was younger. And then they got pretty bad. And then they got better again and just as things were getting to be the best they'd ever been between him and I he was diagnosed with dementia.  And I still feel ...robbed. I still feel like ... he should be here now.  We should all get to have more time. And I know I'm supposed to be feeling lucky or grateful or whatever for the time we did have. And I do. Of course I do.  But fuck it, I feel angry sometimes too.

And this is the first Father's Day since he died.  I think all the firsts will feel like utter shit. This first Father's Day where I don't call him up or send him a card or do anything for him but remember. The 4th of July, where I'll think about how much he hated the sound of fireworks. My birthday, when he'd normally write me a cheque he can't really afford and send a birthday card addressed to 'Sugar pie, honey bunch' and sign his card 'Love you, Daddy' in his godawful handwriting. His birthday, where he'd get all embarrassed and pretend it was just another day.  The first Halloween where I'll think of the times (EVERY YEAR) where he'd scare off the first trick-or-treater by yelling 'WHAT DO YOU WANT?' and he'd end up emptying the bowl of sweets into the kid's bag to make up for it. The boys' birthdays. Christmas. The anniversary of his death.  All of it will be bittersweet. And I guess, sure, it'll all get better in time.  But I need that time. All of it, more of it. There's no magic number or amount of time that will fix this grief.

My dad was really funny. And smart. We used to chat on the phone every week and it didn't matter what the subject was ... whether it be politics or health or science or art or absolutely anything, we'd chat for hours about everything. He was a really devoted grandparent and an excellent storyteller. And I miss him.  I'm really glad he was my dad.  And I'm thinking of you today and every day.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Netgalley Reading

I've documented on this blog for awhile my struggles with Netgalley. How I've come back from a 14% feedback ratio up to (the suggested feedback ratio) 80% using my own brand of rules and guidelines.  Two years on from that surprisingly wildly successful blog post, my rules and guidelines for myself has been successful. I'm currently at a 91% feedback ratio with 10 titles on my shelf unread and therefore not reviewed.

 Because I'm in an almighty blogging and reading slump since the many losses that have occurred over the last few months, I'll try anything to find that hook back into doing the things I love.  And as I have had success recently with Netgalley reading... I've recently read The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley and When Rishi Met Dimple by Sandhya Menon that I really enjoyed ... I thought that I would continue that streak and aim to clearing my Netgalley shelf entirely by the end of the month.  10 titles might be a bit much with the reading slump that I've been in but why not set myself a challenge, right?

Here is the list of potential reads for me in June:

Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally
One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton
Girlhood by Cat Clarke
The Jungle by Pooja Puri
Flight of A Starling by Lisa Heathfield
None of the Above by IW Gregorio
The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (DNF)

I'm leaving the bottom two books, the only adult books on my list until the last, despite Paul Auster being one of my favourites (it's a really chunky book!) and the Colson Whitehead book sounding really interesting and trying to focus more on the YA books, especially as I'm hoping that this mini-reading challenge will also kick-start some blogging this month as well.

I'm most nervous about reading One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton because I know it deals with the death of a loved one that and is something particularly hard for me right now having lost two people who meant a great deal to me in a very short period of time. But we shall see!  I'm also aware that there are 5 UKYA authors on my list so maybe it'd be a good idea to start with those four? To tie in with my British Books Reading Challenge this year too? Oh I don't know.  Wish me luck though.

How are you with Netgalley? Have you read any of the titles on my June TBR? Where do you think I should start?