I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expecOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I'd not read anything by Tamara Ireland Stone before reading Every Last Word, so I didn't know what to expect. Every Last Word is a fantastic story, with a beautiful romance, of a girl dealing with her OCD and learning to accept herself.
Sam and her friends have been popular for as long as she can remember. However, as time has gone on, being popular has come be difficult, with all the expectations. Look good all the time, say the right thing, keep your place at the top of the social ladder at all costs, or lose everything. This is even harder for Sam who suffers with Purely-Obsessional OCD, so being and perfect is on her mind all the time. Then she meets Caroline, with whom the expectations just fall away. With Caroline, she can just be herself without fear of judgement. When Caroline brings her along to Poet's Corner, a secret group of students who write and read out poetry, Sam finds a place she feels she belongs, and she slowly starts to feel better, more normal. But then Sam makes a discovery that turns everything she knows on it's head, and Sam ends up fearing her mind even more.
Every Last Word is brilliant! Sam is such an amazing character, and through her, I got to see a side of OCD I haven't before. She has Purely-Obsessional OCD, which means, for her, it's mostly internal, having obsessed thoughts that she can't let go of; a spiral of thoughts that she can't control and can't stop, which can cause her to have anxiety attacks as she's so scared she might act on her thoughts, or they simply just freak her out. Some of her thoughts aren't that unfamiliar - I'm sure everyone has had the fear of not fitting in, or what their friends might think of them - but where we might push the thoughts aside and try to think of something else, Sam can't do that. They go on and on and on, and they're all-consuming. It scares her, and she hates it; hates the way she thinks, how theirs a glitch in her brain, how she's not "normal".
She has an absolutely wonderful relationship with the psychologist, Sue, who is just brilliant, and really helps Sam get on top of her mental illness. She really tries to get Sam to change the way she sees her OCD, so instead of seeing it as something to despise, it's something that's special, because she sees things differently to others. These moments come a little later on in the book, but I just loved them, because throughout this novel, with Sam's opinion of her OCD, I was reminded of the first half of this post on Hello Giggles, An Open Letter to My Anxiety-Riddled Brain - although Sam suffers with anxiety as well, her negativity on her mental illness is more towards her OCD, but there is a similarity in her feeling towards her mind and her brain. But with Sue's efforts to change how Sam sees it, I was reminded of the second half. The post is amazing for understanding what people who suffer with anxiety go through, and helped me to understand where Sam was coming from better. As someone who doesn't have OCD, Every Last Word seems to be an amazing book for promoting understanding.
As well as being a brilliant book on OCD, it's also a really great story. Sam's friends are simply awful, so I was so happy when she met Caroline, who is so laid back and care-free. She has had her own issues in the past, and so is able to help Sam with her own, without judgement - the first person Sam has ever told about her illness outside her family. To be understood, able to trust, and just be is so freeing to Sam, she and Caroline form a close friendship very quickly. And when she's introduced to Poet's Corner, Sam finds an outlet for her thoughts through writing, and more people who just accept her for her. She doesn't confide in them about her illness, but they don't pile expectations on her to be perfect, and she feels at home amongst them, which she has only felt before during the summer holidays, when she's competing in swimming competitions. And there's also AJ, and the sweet, sweet romance that develops between them. I loved the Poet's Corner, seeing these people reading out very different poems and the sense of belonging they all felt there. I loved it so much, I've been inspired to start writing my own crappy poetry again!
There was a part of the book I did, for a while, feel kind of annoyed about. As I was reading, I was thinking, "I must talk about this in my review." I felt let down by a certain aspect of the story. But then we had the twist. There is a big, major twist that I did not see coming at all, and completely explained and made sense of the aspect I had a problem with. The twist is just brilliant, it completely wowed me! At times in the story, it felt that Sam's mental illness wasn't as focal as Sam's time with those in Poet's Corner and Caroline. But then you get the twist, and realise it flows throughout. It's just so, so clever, and I felt all kinds of things; shock, sadness, sympathy. I know I've said it already, but it's just brilliant!
Every Last Word is an incredible story, one I highly recommend! I am now so eager to read the rest of Stone's novels; she's not an author to miss.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley for the eProof....more
I loved Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't Me, so I was really excited to read her next novel, What You LefOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I loved Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't Me, so I was really excited to read her next novel, What You Left Behind. A highly emotional novel, with twists I didn't see coming, What You Left Behind is a really beautiful story.
Six months ago, Ryden's girlfriend Meg died during the birth of their daughter Hope. Meg had cancer, and once she found out she was pregnant, she decided to stop treatment and have a child. And now she's dead, and Ryden's left trying to raise a baby in his grief. He loves Hope, but if he could have Meg back, he'd turn back the clock in a heartbeat. Now he's raising a daughter who doesn't seem to like him, struggling to do everything right, and feeling alone. But then he meets Joni at work, who doesn't know about his past, or about Hope. With her, he can be the Ryden he was before Meg came along, before he knew she was ill, before her death and becoming a father. Her friendship is the only thing keeping him going. That, and Meg's journals. One has been found, and Ryden is convinced Meg left it, and others, behind for him, with messages to show him how to be a better father. But what with his frantic journal search, trying to earn a soccer scholarship, raising Hope, work, and keeping the truth about his life from Joni, Ryden's having trouble keeping on top of it all.
I'm including What You Left Behind in Sex and Teen Lit Month II for several reasons. Although there are no sex scenes on the page - they fade to black - the existence of Hope and the effect raising her has on Ryden fits in to the "consequences" of sex side of things that I also want to cover, and with flashbacks and Meg's journal entries, we get to see some of the pregnancy, the conversations had and decisions made.
As I've said already, What You Left Behind is a really emotional read. Ryden blames himself; if he hadn't had sex with Meg, or if he had used a condom, Meg wouldn't haven fallen pregnant, and wouldn't have stopped her treatment. There's a chance she would have survived, and so by his logic, Ryden killed Meg by getting her pregnant. It doesn't matter that she was on the pill and it failed, it's his fault. What's worse is he's really struggling with Hope. She's up all night, and really doesn't seem to like him. He's getting little sleep, and is so disheartened every time he holds Hope and she wriggles and cries, settling only for his mum, at first, and later, Alan, a friend of Meg's. The only bright spark in his life is soccer. If he manages to get a scholarship, he can go to UCLA, become a footballer, and really provide for Hope. It's not a dead-set plan, but it is a plan.
When he meets Joni at work, he gets to put his worries aside for a while. He can stop being Hope's dad, can stop being the guy who killed Meg, and just be Ryden. Joni is a wonderful character. She's funny and bold, and really quite confident, although she has her wobbles, and she accepts Ryden at face value, and likes him. A real friendship forms between the two - or it would be real if it wasn't for Ryden's lies. I really liked the two of them together, though I must admit I felt sorry for Meg - I know she's dead, but it just felt too soon for me. Ryden feels the same at first, but I couldn't shake it. Didn't stop me loving Joni, though.
Meg is a wonderful character. Although she dies before the book starts, with the various journal entries and Ryden's flashbacks, I feel we get to know her pretty well and understand her, and I really felt for her. Meg is completely pro-choice, so her decision to stop her treatment and have Hope is not because she's anti-abortion. There's a really wonderful paragraph where Ryden remembers how strongly Meg felt, in general, about a woman's right to choose, and it was a brilliant little nugget, I think. We get more Ryden than we do Meg, obviously, but I just admired Meg so much. She was so brave to try and bring her daughter to term and risk her life doing so. I understood where Ryden was coming from when he talks about how much he argued with Meg to have a termination, but as someone whose dream it is to be a mother one day, I felt a real connection to Meg and applauded the decision she made. It's not in any way an easy one, but I feel she was so courageous.
There are twists. There are unexpected outcomes. Although in a roundabout way, What You Left Behind ended the way I thought it would, there were various revelations I didn't see coming. Things go wrong, things are discovered, and the way I felt about a fair number of the main and side characters changed or was affected at least. There was something in this book that I was hugely disappointed by, and didn't agree with at all. It's not a criticism of the book, it's just part of the story, choices made by characters, and was actually a brilliant in terms of plot, but just so wrong. It kind of turned everything on it's head for me. The way I viewed this story completely changed. And it's so clever of Verdi to throw that into the mix.
What You Left Behind is a really brilliant novel! It's heart-wrenching and painful, but just so beautiful. I loved watching Ryden with Hope, even when he struggled, even when he was sad, even when Hope didn't seem to want him holding her. I loved their relationship, and how hard Ryden tried. He's not perfect, but his story is one I'll be thinking about for a really long time.
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz is a novel about Etta - a black bisexual girl with an eating disorder. So intersectionality, I just had to read it! And it was an even better read than I hoped it would be.
Etta recently split up with her boyfriend, but despite that, the Disco Dykes, the group she was formerly apart of, still don't want to know her, and treat her appallingly for stooping so low as to go out with a guy. She's also recovering from an eating disorder - though not one she can be medically diagnosed for, even though she used to starve herself and throw up whatever she did it, because her weight isn't low enough. And because of her curves, she was told by her ballet coach she wasn't quite right for ballet, despite being an incredible dancer. Etta isn't gay enough, not sick enough, not skinny or white enough for anything it seems. But when she's encouraged to try out for Brentwood, a theatre school in New York that could be Etta's ticket out of Nebraska, she meets Bianca, a girl who is also in her recovery group. Bianca is everything Etta isn't, but the two bond over trying to get into Brentwood and over the shared experience of eating disorders. Bianca is the one person accepting Etta as she is, but Bianca is so very sick; can she really lean on someone who can only just hold herself up?
Not Otherwise Specified is an incredible book about body image, sexuality, bullying, going for your dreams, and, most of all, friendship. The relationship between Etta and Bianca is beautiful! Despite the age difference - Bianca is 14 and Etta is 17 - the two get really close. Theirs is a really close friendship, not a romantic relationship, and Bianca brings Etta into the fold with her brother James and their friend Mason. Finally people Etta can just be herself around - whether it's talking about health or getting nervous over auditions.
Etta has a fair number of issues, but there are two things about her that inspired me so much! As mentioned, because of her weight, she's not giving a specific eating disorder, but also because of her weight, there were those, including her mother, who didn't think she had a problem. Doesn't matter that she was starving herself or binging and throwing it back up, because she wasn't skin and bone, some people failed to noticed. The reason she's in recovery? Because she herself decided to get help. Other people may not have seen it, but Etta knew she had a problem, and she got herself the help she needed. That's just amazing. It's hard and it's difficult, and she still struggles with food or with what people say about her eating or her weight, but she decided to try and get better, and I can't help but be in awe of her.
Also, when her lesbian friends dumped her when she got a boyfriend, she knew the problem was theirs. Even though she missed them, even though she still wanted to hang out with them, she knew she had done nothing wrong, and voiced that. She has always been bisexual, she never hid that and pretended to just be lesbian, the girls knew that. And that was ok, until she actually starts dating a boy. The way they behave is atrocious, the bullying - the violence and the names and the taunts, it's disgusting. But Etta knows who she is, and won't apologise for being bisexual. It's not about being a part-time lesbian and straight when it suits her. The girl likes both guys and girls, at the same time. Bisexuality exists, and she owns it! And I love her for it, even if she doesn't completely pull them up on their crap, and still, some of the time, wants to get back into that crowd. But it's like the girls really don't get it:
'"This is hard enough as it is, and then you have to go and completely piss on everything we stand for. Did you miss the part where the heteros make our life shit? And now here you are slutting around with the first guy who's nice to you, and what do you think that does besides make us all look like we're just doing the lesbian thing for attention?"' (p9)
I really think Etta's relationship with Rachel - who was her best friend before she got a boyfriend - is really screwed up. Those two do not have boundaries, which can be fine, but theirs is a relationship that needs them, because things get way to blurry. Rachel has this idea of who Etta is and who she should be, and if Etta does something that doesn't quite fit Rachel's image, Rachel will talk her back into her image, and Etta will follow almost without thinking. Who cares if ballet is her passion? Rachel thinks it's not right for her, is causing her too much pain, so she should stop. Rachel actually gets hurt by Etta getting a boyfriend. No worries when it's a girlfriend she has, but a boyfriend, and Rachel acts like Etta has done something terrible to her personally. Because Etta isn't who she thought she was - go figure. And Etta actually feels bad about that, that she hurt her best friend, because she's her whole world, even if she doesn't regret what she did. Their relationship is really toxic, in my opinion. But this isn't a criticism of the book, sometimes people do have toxic friends, and this was shown brilliantly. Rachel isn't necessarily mean, exactly, she does care about Etta, she just wants to control her, and it's really awful to read about.
Something I absolutely loved about this book was the look into sexuality and religion. Bianca is religious. She goes to Church, but her faith is less about organised religion and more about her relationship with god. Her faith tells her homosexuality is bad. And yet Etta, and other people in this book, aren't bad. She really struggles with this, and I love how Etta - who is an atheist as well as bisexual, comes to her defence. (Some names are removed below to avoid spoilers.)
'She's not in this to hate gay people. She doesn't hate gay people. She's just a girl who really loves her God and doesn't want to do anything to pull herself away from that... probably just as much as she doesn't want to be pulled away from [redacted]. And yeah, we can ask her to deal with [redacted] being gay, we can ask her to accept it, but I don't think we can just say that something she believes, something that she fundamentally wants to not hurt anyone, is something she can, or should, just get over.' (p126)
'"Hey. I'm the queer one here and I'm saying leave her alone. She's... fourteen. She doesn't hate anyone. She isn't running around telling people they're going to Hell. She's struggling because her damn God told her something she's questioning and that's really scary for her and she's fourteen. Leave her alone."' (p128)
Isn't that awesome?! This is the first time I've read a book where the actual queer character is defending someone's beliefs. Granted, Bianca isn't telling anyone that who they are is wrong, she is really struggling with what she believes, but Etta isn't saying her beliefs are screwed up either. Whatever your personal beliefs on what religion says about homosexuality, you've got to admit Etta is pretty awesome here? She loves her friend, and so understands her struggle, and doesn't want her to be so upset by it, or get so much grief. It's wonderful.
This review is already a lot longer than I planned, and I haven't even touched on the body image/eating disorders side of things yet. I'm not going to go on, but this is dealt with beautifully; Etta's issues, Bianca's, how Etta feels about Bianca's issues - how she worries about her being so sick, yet also struggles with feeling like she's a failure in comparison... it's heartbreaking to read, but feels so real and honest to me.
And despite the seriousness of the mental illnesses of eating disorders, it's wonderful to read a book that deals with this - and all the other serious elements too, like the bullying - in a way that doesn't make the book feel too heavy, too depressing. I absolutely loved Etta's voice, she's a fantastic character who I'd love to hang out with, and even with everything going on, she keeps things fun, mostly. And you've just got to love all the theatre school auditions/ballet practising. It's just good!
Not Otherwise Specified is a truly beautiful, amazing book, and I would force this book into your hands now if I could. This is my first Moskowitz book, but I'll definitely be picking up her others. Please, read this book....more
Panther by David Owen, a book focusing on the experience of living with someone with depression, had me gripOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Panther by David Owen, a book focusing on the experience of living with someone with depression, had me gripped from the very first page. An amazing, realistic portrayal.
Derrick's older sister, Charlotte, has depression, and it's affecting everyone. To Derrick, home is no longer a place of comfort, but a place of walking on eggshells around Charlotte, so as not to upset. Three months ago, Charlotte attempted to commit suicide, and his life has gone from bad to worse. His best friend has ditched him, he stands no chance of ending up with the girl he fancies, Hadley, and he's put on a huge amount of weight - and it's all Charlotte's fault. When there are rumours of a panther roaming his town, Derrick puts two and two together; the panther appeared around the same time as Charlotte's incident, and is sure this can't be a coincidence. If he can catch the panther, everything will be ok - Charlotte will get better, and his life will go back to normal. But how do you go about catching a panther?
This is a really fantastic story of living with someone who has depression. There are quite a few books out with protagonists suffering with depression, but they focus mainly on the central character. However, depression affects more than just the person who is suffering with it, but also those around them, and with Panther, David Owen brilliantly shows just what this can be like.
Derrick is having a really hard time dealing with Charlotte's depression. He blames for everything that's going wrong in his life, and is just so angry with her. And also guilty, that he can't seem to be able to help her. As someone who has been in Derrick's position of living with someone with depression, I found his anger really callous. He doesn't really understand what depression is, but for most of the story. As far as he's concerned, if you're having a crap time, you don't throw huge crying and screaming fits and throw things about the room like a child having a tantrum, you just get on with it like everyone else. He's so angry and so frustrated, and can't stand being in that house. He doesn't seem to try to understand, either. He's too busy blaming Charlotte for everything - not just everything that's changed, but his bad decisions and the consequences of them, too. It's all her fault. Despite my personal reactions to how Derrick handles things, none of this is a criticism of the story. Derrick doesn't get it, and his reaction is pretty realistic of a young guy who's a little selfish, and just wants his life back. Saying all this, he does genuinely care about his sister and wants her to get better, wants to help her, he just doesn't know how. Which is where hunting the panther comes in. He gets it into his head that this is something he can do, something that will fix everything, and he fixates on it.
Derrick has his own issues, too. The book opens with Derrick in an alley, rooting through bin bags for cookies. He's put on a lot of weight because he binges. His need to binge is a physical pain in his stomach, a need he has to fill. He knows it's a bad idea, he hates the way it's changing his body, but it's a compulsion he struggles to fight. With everything that's going wrong around him being out of his control, binging, even though it's bad for him, is a bad thing that he has control over. His binging is happening because he has made a choice, because he puts the food in his mouth. He's punishing himself for not being able to fix anything else, but temporarily feels better for having some kind of control over something. It's really upsetting to read, and I just felt so sorry for him. He also makes some bad choices and does things that are also worrying and disturbing; Derrick is quite clearly not a guy who is coping well. It would have been nice to have seen him get some kind of help, to have someone to talk to maybe. However, if he did, we would have a completely different story, and I think it's important to see why help might be needed in the first place.
The panther. This was a really interesting part of the story. There is a panther roaming in Derrick's town; everyone's talking about it and it's in the news. However, for most of the book, I was never entirely sure whether Derrick ever actually saw the panther, or whether he was imagining things. Derrick's mind definitely played tricks on him whenever these confrontations took place, emphasising further just how bad Derrick is getting, but whether the panther was ever actually there, I'm not sure. It's possible that it might be a complete coincidence, but I like the idea that Charlotte was suffering with depression, which can be known as the black dog, and Derrick is out trying to catch a black cat to make it all right again. For Derrick, the panther did become intrinsically linked with Charlotte's depression, and was almost a physical representation of it - trap the panther, and depression can no longer trap them. I really like this extra layer to the story, even if it's just my interpretation of it.
Though at times a difficult read, Panther is a really incredible, important and powerful story; moving and very real. A brilliant debut I highly recommend.
FYI: My review will spoil what Darren's dad reveals to him. We find out about this revelat**spoiler alert** Originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
FYI: My review will spoil what Darren's dad reveals to him. We find out about this revelation really early on in the story, so I don't feel it's really that much of a spoiler, and considering it's a focus of the majority of the story, I have no idea how I can review this book without talking about it. If you don't want this spoilt for you, though, do not read any further.
As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. A story told entirely through lists, that's as long as it is - 656 pages, about what sounds to be quite a complicated story? I am sold! This book is really amazing, but the ending has left me totally confused.
Darren isn't doing so great. His parents are divorced, his brother has left for college, and his best friend has moved away. Dealing with the divorce has been hard, but he doesn't really have anyone to talk to. And then one morning, his dad drops a bombshell on him; he's gay. Darren doesn't know how to deal with this sudden declaration, or how to work out what it means. Not being able to cope with all that's going on in his head, or with having to spend a several hour journey with his dad later to visit his brother, he decides to skip school and visit his brother early. But Zoey, a quiet and seemingly strange girl from school Darren has always had a thing for, adds further complications; she turns up mid-journey, and spends the day with him. And then disappears.
I felt quite sorry for Darren. He has really struggled with his parents' divorce. He understands that now they're apart they seem happier than they were together, but that's not what he wants. He wants his family whole; his parents together, and happy about it, and possibly his brother back home. Even now, there is still tension between his parents, and flitting between the two homes is difficult. It doesn't help that his mother isn't really around as much, as for her job she has to travel to and from California quite a lot, so Darren is forced to stay with his dad who just wants to talk about everything. And then his dad throws another spanner in the works by revealing he's gay.
I really like the way this was handled. Darren isn't homophobic, he doesn't have a problem with gay people... but this is not something you expect to be told from your dad. He's gay? He's always been gay? So what does that mean for his mum and dad's relationship? Was it all a lie? Had his whole childhood been a lie? Darren really isn't happy, and doesn't know how to deal with it. Also, although being gay isn't a problem, having a gay dad kind of maybe is, because of how he's going to be seen - he's always going to be the guy with the gay dad, he's a little worried what people will think of him. But mostly, his struggle is with accepting it himself. His dad is not who he thought he was, he never has been, and although he doesn't have a problem with gay people, it's a complete shock. And with his mother not always there, and his best friend nowhere near by, he's lonely, and doesn't really have anyone to talk to. Hence him deciding to go visit his brother on his own.
The voices of the various characters in this book were brilliant! So distinctive! I especially loved Nate's, even though he frustrated the hell out of me. It was Darren's, Nate's and Zoey's that stood out for me. In fact, it was Darren's relationship with Zoey that was the highlight of the book for me. In the end, it turns out to be only one part of a book with many parts, so not as much of a focus as I would have liked. But hey, Darren has a lot going on, and does spend a lot of time thinking about her and questioning things, even if there isn't much page-time of them together. And Me Being Me isn't so much a book about Darren's relationship with any one particular person, but with all of them. It's a book about him.
However, this book had one major flaw for me; the ending. I have no idea if I missed something, or if that is just how it ended. There are so many questions left unanswered! Maybe there will be a sequel, from someone else's point of view, where we find out the answers to these questions. But if not, and that is just it, with me having not missed anything... then that is one hell of an infuriating ending, to the point where I'm quite angry. To get so invested in a story, in a character, and wanting them to work out everything, and then to have... things end like that?! I'm really trying not to spoil it, but it just felt cruel. I want to know what was going on too, how comes I don't get to hear? I really do hope there's a sequel, but if not, I'm really not happy. Has anybody else read this yet? Please talk to me about the ending in case I have completely missed something! Because there are just no words really.
Overall, though, a really amazing book, apart from those last four pages. I'd still really recommending this book despite the ending, because it's just so, so good otherwise! And the format is so interesting and works so well! Definitely something to check out!...more
I thought Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin sounded pretty good when I first heard of it, but it eOriginally published on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I thought Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin sounded pretty good when I first heard of it, but it exceeded my expectations! This is a fantastic book; a dystopian novel with a difference!
In a world a few generations in the future, everyone knows their deathdate - the date they will die. Due to some scientific discoveries, doctors can now determine the date of your death using blood and hair from when you are born. For Denton, his deathdate is tomorrow. It hasn't really bothered him too much that he will die early, but once his deathdate is imminent, his life is turned on it's head. Experiencing a lot of firsts, a lot of confusion, and a fair dose of teenage angst, Denton is now wishing he had more time. But when a strange purple splotch appears of his thigh and starts to spread, he knows his time is coming. If he hadn't enough to worry about, a strange man appears at his funeral, telling him he knew his dead mother, and he should trust no-one. With Denton's death just around the corner, what could he possibly have to be wary about?
This book! Oh my god, this book is brilliant! As I said above, this is a dystopia with a difference - for the most part, it doesn't feel like a dystopian novel at all, but rather a contemporary fantasy/comedy (comic fantasy isn't quite right). It's literally set just a few generations into the future, as Denton's grandfather remembers a time when no-one knew their deathdate, so it's a fairly recent thing, but to Denton the whole idea of people not knowing when they could die is completely bizarre to him. How could you live when every day could be the day you died? For the most part, he's quite calm about him impending death, accepting of it; he's known it was coming, and it's ok. At least it is at first.
But he has other things to worry about, like the possibility that he might have maybe cheated on his girlfriend with his best friend's sister, who has maybe always hated him. And he can't quite remember if he did and/or why, due to getting completely off his head on alcohol - an experience he can't say he enjoyed as he can't remember most of it. As you can tell, for the most part, Denton Little's Deathdate is a pretty normal YA contemporary novel, one that's pretty funny too. Denton's best mate, Poalo is awesome! He is one of the major highlights of the book for me, because he's always coming out with something hilarious! He literally had me laughing out loud, and I love him! I kind of wish he also had his own book.
But then the book takes a turn. It starts off gradually. Questions are raised in his mind about his mum, after the appearance of Brian Blum, who also warned him about being followed and to stay away from government officials. There's a cop who keeps appearing and acting strangely. And suddenly the book has a thriller feel to it, and you're sitting on the edge of your seat, not quite sure how it's going to go! Will Denton die with all these questions? Is dying maybe the best thing that can happen right now? What is going on, and what are people not telling him? It's so exciting and awesome! Who has ever heard of a teen-angsty, hilariously funny, fast-paced, exciting dystopian? I love it!
But there's even more to this book; amidst the comedy and thriller side of things, it's also really thought-provoking about life. How you live it, what really counts. How would you live your life if you knew when, in the future, you were going to die? How would you live if you didn't know if you'd die today, or tomorrow, or a week or a month from now? What would you do with your last few hours? Why aren't you doing those things all the time? Not all these questions are covered or asked in this book, but they're what it made me think as I was reading. Our lives matter, no matter how short or long - shouldn't we make it count? (This might also be due to the fact that my Nan's funeral was four days ago, so I've been thinking about how best to live, anyway. Yes, I chose to read this book at a really awkward time - I wanted a comedy - but it worked out for me.)
This really is an amazing and wonderfully surprising book! There are certain aspects of the book I worked out early on, but this didn't diminish my enjoyment of the work, nor did I have any clue where exactly this story was going to go! It ends on such a fantastic cliffhanger, and with the teaser from the sequel included at the end, oh my god, I cannot wait for the next book! It's going to be brilliant! This is one hell of a debut, and deserves to be a hit! Beyond the sequel, I will definitely read whatever else Rubin writes!
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Children's Books for the review copy....more
If your children like brightly coloured, funny stories, I Need a Wee! by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet is forOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
If your children like brightly coloured, funny stories, I Need a Wee! by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet is for them.
The toys are all visiting a fairground, enjoying all the rides and various amusements. Alan the bear needs a wee, but he's having too much fun to go. Fortunately, his friends Giraffe and Robot make him head towards the toilet, but there are so many distractions along he way. Before he knows it, Alan is desperate. Is he going to get there?
I Need a Wee! isn't a book I would pick up for a child off my own back. The bright neon colours aren't really my thing. They make the book seem tacky to me, and it doesn't look like a picture book with much substance, to me. Having read it, there's not a huge deal of substance, but it's a fun, amusing read children will get a kick out of. What child doesn't like toilet humour? It's always going to be a hit. And with it's neon colours, children are going to be drawn to it. I personally prefer more in picture books, but children don't need every book they read to teach them something. Sometimes pure, simple fun is a good thing.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books for the review copy....more
This is a cute little book about a cat who's name is Panda, and a young girl who doesn't understand wReview originally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
This is a cute little book about a cat who's name is Panda, and a young girl who doesn't understand why.
This small hardback, with it's great mostly black and white pictures illustrated by Charlie Brandon-King, it's a great little gift book. Readers will be amused by this superior cat's attitude and it's peculiar way of talking.
A Cat Called Panda is also perfect for children. With this poem's repetitive rhyming words, in a similar vein of Dr. Seuss, any child will be riveted by the rhythm as well as the striking illustrations of the various animals.
An enchanting little book that will delight all readers, whatever their age.
Thank you to GMC Distribution for the review copy....more
A number of months ago, when discussing upcoming LGBTQ YA, Charlie Morris highly recommended The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, so I requested a review copy. I resisted reading it until recently due to not being able to discuss it for months if I read it sooner, but I kind of wish I had! It's SO good!
Every October is the accident season for the Morris family. They will bump, they will slip, they will trip, they will fall, and there will be torn skin, blood, and broken bones. Every October. No-one knows why this happens, but Cara and Alice, and their ex-stepbrother, Sam, must put up with the extra layers, the the padding around the house and the removal of certain electronic devices like the kettle their mother/guardian insists on. Because the accident season is no joke; family members have died. October is a time when everyone is on edge. So when Cara discovers that someone, Elsie, s girl from school, is in every single one of her photos - an elbow, the back of her head, a shoe - Cara starts to worry. Why is Elsie in every photo? Is she following her? And why has she suddenly stopped coming to school? It looks like she's disappeared, but Cara is determined to find her and get her answers, along with the help of Sam and her best friend Bea. Secrets abound, but during the accident season, it might be safer if secrets stat undiscovered.
The Accident Season is incredible! It's atmospheric, haunting, and completely mesmerising! There is so much intrigue to the mystery behind the accident season and what's going on with Elsie. I couldn't stop turning the pages, desperate to know what was happening, what was behind everything. It's not a horror story, but it has such a creepy vibe, an eerie feeling that something is watching Cara, Alice, Sam and their mother/Melanie, causing these accidents at the precise moment. With every scrape, cut, bruise, broken bone and near-miss, it felt like watching a Final Destination movie. You read in a constant state of trepidation, with a sense of foreboding, knowing something terrible could happen at any moment.
I loved how I was never completely sure what was real and what wasn't, continually guessing. There was the accident season, there was Elsie's disappearance, yet still turning up in the photos, the changeling siblings - Fae creatures that Cara dreams about, whose looks and lives have similarities to Cara, Alice, Sam and Bea. Then small things, like a shop that can't be found a second time, or a frozen river when it's so hot out. Plus there's Bea's interest in tarot and her mystical stories, and strange things turning up in a wooded clearing. It's absolutely gripping, and I have no idea what to class this book as! Contemporary fantasy? Magic realism? Paranormal? Something else altogether? Either way, it's brilliant!
The various romances in The Accident Season are subplots, which was nice. The focus was firmly on the weird and the strange, and the romance aspects happened alongside all that. There is an LGBTQ element to the story, but it's not explicitly stated. Sexuality isn't discussed*, what is discussed is a character's feelings for another character, but nothing more than that, nothing about identities. It's about the romance, not sexuality. Some might argue that this should be developed further, but I feel the romance in the book is treated just as romance, rather than straight romance or LGBTQ romance. It's all the same, and I think this is great.
This review hasn't done The Accident Season justice. I don't know if I can. It's delightfully suspenseful, deliciously ominous, and incredibly exciting! I absolutely adored The Accident Season, it's an unbelievably good debut novel! I just wish it was longer! There is no doubt I'll be reading whatever Fowley-Doyle writes next. She's going to be one to watch.
*Although sexuality isn't discussed, I know it's important to see yourself represented in the books you read, so, although it's not actually printed, from what I've read, I would say the characters would identify as bisexual. But I'm not the author, so I could be wrong here.
Thank you to Corgi Children's Books for the proof....more
I wasn't all that impressed with Half Bad, but I was told by my boss that the story gets better in Half WildOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I wasn't all that impressed with Half Bad, but I was told by my boss that the story gets better in Half Wild, that there was more of everything I thought Half Bad was lacking, so I decided to give it a go. And I'm happy to say Half Wild is a much better book!
Nathan now as now received three gifts and blood from his father, Marcus, and is now a fully fledged witch. But his father left him soon after, and the Hunters are still after him. Gabriel is nowhere to be found, and it's been weeks since Nathan last saw him. But they said they would meet at the cave, and so he waits. Instead of Gabriel, it's Nesbitt Nathan finds at the cave - a Half Blood who works with powerful and influential Black Witch Van Dal. Van and Nesbitt rescued Gabriel after he was shot, and have nursed him back to health. Now he's back with Gabriel, Nathan's only thought is to rescue Annalise from the nefarious Black Witch Mercury, who has her under a death sleep. He can't do so without the help of Van and Nesbitt, but they will only help if Nathan agrees to join the rebel Alliance of Black, White and Half Blood Witches who want to overthrow the Council of White Witches, now run by Soul O'Brien. Soul is sending his Hunters out across Europe to persecute all Black Witches, and punishing White Witches who oppose him. It's time to stand together to fight against a common enemy, but the Alliance is lead by people he doesn't trust, and is suspicious. But if joining the Alliance is the only way to save Annalise, he doesn't have a choice. All the while, Nathan is struggling to control his Gift - the same Gift his father has, of transformation. But the animal part of him has a mind of his own, and Nathan is scared of himself.
Oh, how happy I was to discover that Half Wild is so much more exciting! A whole lot more goes on in this book than in Half Bad, and the company never stay in one places for long, always moving on to somewhere new, always something to do, someone to speak to, someone to find. Half Wild is much faster paced, but the first half is still a little slow for my liking, and at times things seemed a little too convenient. The second half is where the story really picks up, where things really start moving forward, and I flew through it.
There's a hell of a lot more action in Half Wild than the previous book, but that's not to say it's action packed, and not all of the action is in fighting, but in the moving, racing against time. There are various parts of the book that are really interesting and sometimes disturbing and gory, and I was pretty gripped. The world building still bothers me a little; there's just not enough information about the how and the why. However, there's so much going on in this book that by the second half this bothered me much less, and I just wanted to know what was going to happen.
I really like the main group of characters in this book. Van and Nesbitt are awesome; Nesbitt really amused me, even if he wound Nathan up most of the time, and Van is just so intriguing. I wish we got to know more about her, and actually get to see her make the potions she's so fantastic at, rather than be told she needs to make one, have time pass and it's done. I'm quite fond of Gabriel too, he's so wonderfully loyal. However, I do have a problem with the romance aspect of these books. I cannot understand why anyone is interested in anyone. We have never - not in Half Bad or Half Wild - seen any real reasons why Nathan likes Annalise, why she likes him too, or why Gabriel likes Nathan. The key word is seen. We're just told that they've hung out, separately, had conversations while hiking and running and waiting, or while hanging out after school by the cliffs. But we don't get to see those feelings develop. I don't really know anything about Annalise except she's pretty and she's part of the O'Brien family. We know far more about Gabriel. And yet Nathan is completely in love with her. I don't get Gabriel's feelings for Nathan either. Nathan was awful at the very beginning of their friendship, but suddenly they're best friends. I really think we should have got the chance to see these relationships develop, rather than just be told that they did. Saying that, I've always liked Gabriel more than Annalise, so I'm rooting for him.
The ending! I saw half of it coming, because it was so obvious. I was thinking, "Oh, come on,you fools!" But the other half... oh my god! Pretty blood awesome and disturbing, and wooow! Yes, I actually wowed, there. A small part of it is very convenient, I think, and if you've read it, you should know what I'm talking about, right? Far too convenient. It's going to make Half Lost, the the third and final book in the trilogy, very interesting, though! And I'm really keen to see where the story will end up. So yes! I am now invested in this story, and pretty looking forward to the final book!
Thank you to Penguin via Foyles for the reading copy....more
Being the huge fan of Lauren Oliver's novels that I am, I was really excited when I first heard that OliverOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Being the huge fan of Lauren Oliver's novels that I am, I was really excited when I first heard that Oliver wrote an adult book, Rooms, about ghosts and secrets and the past. However, I didn't enjoy Rooms as much as I hoped.
When Richard Walker dies, the family he has left returns to sort out his belonging to discover what they have inherited, partly hoping they've inherited his wealth, partly wanting to be well away from the house and all it's memories. The lives of Caroline, Richard's ex wife, and their daughter Minna and son Trenton weren't happy ones when they lived together. Caroline drinks to forget and to cope, Minna struggles to find any kind of happiness, and tries to get what little she can in the wrong places, and Trenton, who feels worthless and unloved, believes there's only one way out. But they are not alone in the house. The ghosts Alice and Sandra, previous tenants of the house, are living in the walls. The house is their body, and also hides their own secrets. The arrival of the family upsets their peace, with squabbles and noise and movement. The pasts and secrets of them all collide in the days the family are there, and all that is buried will come to light.
What I love most about Oliver is her writing style. I have raved about her writing and imagery countless times before, and the beauty of her words can be found within the pages of Rooms. However, the story just didn't interest me as much as I thought it would. I found it to be very slow, and most of the characters so self-absorbed. They all had their issues, and I did feel sorry for them, but I couldn't bring myself to really care.
Each person has a chance at narrating; Sandra and Alice each narrate their stories in first person, and we have third person narration from Caroline, Trenton, Minna, and occasionally, Amy, Minna's daughter. They each have a story, and we jump from one to the other, all the while following what's happening in the present. I'm not new to stories that jump about, nor averse to them, but it just didn't work for me with Rooms. I found the plot quite slow as it was, but it feels even slower when you jump from one person's past to another.
Sadly, Rooms just didn't work for me. But it is a really interesting premise, and I do think this is a story a lot of other people would enjoy. It just isn't my book, unfortunately.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for the reading copy....more
With the YA Book Prize 2015 awards ceremony coming up, and an event I'm going to with Sally Green on the panOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
With the YA Book Prize 2015 awards ceremony coming up, and an event I'm going to with Sally Green on the panel, I thought it was about time I got stuck in to Half Bad. Receiving a mostly positive review from from Cynthia of Afterwritten, I was really looking forward to reading this, but I've finished thinking it was merely ok.
In a world of witches, where White Witches - the good - hunt Black Witches - the bad, Nathan is the son of a White Witch and a Black Witch, and his very existence is repugnant. Unsure whether he is going to become a White Witch or a Black Witch, Nathan has been watched most of his life, called in by the White Witches Council for assessments to see on which side he will fall. Deciding it's far too dangerous to leave a possible Black Witch at his home, he is now locked in a cage, his guardian an approved White Witch - because not only is Nathan a Half Code, he's also the son of Marcus, the deadliest Black Witch in England. But if Nathan doesn't escape and find his father to receive his three gifts on 17th Birthday, he could die.
The story starts off in second person narration, which, as opposed to first person which is "I/me" or third person which is "he/she", is "you/your". This was a little jarring at first, but I got used to it pretty easily, and I think it was pretty clever on Green's part. It's a great way of showing where Nathan in mentally. He's had a pretty crappy life so far, and now he's living in a cage outdoors. By thinking "you" instead of "I", he distances himself from the things he's going through. As I said, it doesn't last for long, as the story switches to tell Nathan's story from when he was a child to present day.
The world building of of this urban fantasy story is pretty interesting for the most part. There are White and Black Witches who despise each other. Black Witches spend a lot of time killing other Witches, White or Black. On their 17th Birthday whets - underage Witches - are given three gifts from a parent or grandparent, drink some blood from that relatives hand in a magical ceremony, and will soon develop their Gift, their own magical talent, and they are now a Witch. Some White Witches then go on to be Hunters, to hunt down Black Witches, and there's a White Witches Council of England, Scotland and Wales, who rule over the White Witches. I couldn't tell you what other Witches do with their time.
We learn all this fairly early on, so most of the time, we're with Nathan in his cage, or learning how he ended up there, and what happens afterwards. And even afterwards... Half Bad is generally quite a slow novel, I found. It's interesting, but not a huge amount happens, not all that exciting anyway. Most of that comes very near the end of the novel, and even then I was urging the pace to get faster, the tension to be more edge-of-your-seat, and for there to be more action.
Half Bad isn't a bad story, it was interesting and I kept reading, just not a huge deal happens in it. I was expecting more, despite the mixed response this novel has had. I enjoyed it, but I can't yet say if I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second book, Half Wild. I might need some convincing.
I don't generally read non-fiction, but when I heard about True Face by Siobhan Curham, I knew I had to readOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I don't generally read non-fiction, but when I heard about True Face by Siobhan Curham, I knew I had to read it. Young girls deal with such self-esteem problems, and are constantly being told by the media how they should look, and to strive for the "perfect" unattainable look. And here is a book especially for teens to combat those issues, and help them towards self-love, self-confidence and a healthy self-esteem.
True Face is a fantastic book, and so important. This is not like your usual non-fiction growing up books. This isn't a book about body changes and hormones, etc, this is a book about stepping back from the pressure to be someone you aren't, and get back to the real you, behind the masks - back to our True Face.
I am fortunate enough that my self-esteem and self-confidence aren't in too bad a shape, but I really, really struggled as a teenager. I didn't fit in, and being ginger and very skinny, I stuck out like a saw thumb. Add to that the fact that I was bookish, did well in school, didn't listen to the "right" music, wasn't rolling my skirt up, or walking around with the latest designer coat/bag/shoes, didn't have a boyfriend, and was pretty well behaved, I attracted negative attention. I was mildly bullied, and made to feel like I simply wasn't good enough. I can't tell you how big a difference True Face would have made to me back then.
True Face takes you through the masks we put on to try to fit in, asks you to think back to who you were when you were a child before self-esteem issues kicked in, experiences you've been through that may have caused you to get to a point where you started pretending, and then leads you through discovering who you really are behind the mask. With examples from Curham's own life and various people who share their stories, Curham gets you thinking about where things went wrong, and about how fantastic you are, the real you, and how there's no need to hide. True Face even tackles how to deal with that inner voice that tells you you aren't good enough, and how to ignore what we're told by the media. With the help of writing exercising to help you really dig deep, True Face is a fantastic book to help readers discover the "true you" - or, rather, come to realise just how wonderful the reader is and how unnecessary it is to fake it. True Face also goes into body image, romance, toxic friends and aiming for your dreams.
At times, True Face feels like it's aimed at younger teenagers with phrases such as Inner Voice of Doom, and possibly even a little cheesy, but this is easily overlooked with how great this book is overall, with the potential this book has to help so many young girls and women. Although I'm pretty sorted now, as I was reading, I was nodding along as I thought back over my own life. I had to sort through my self-esteem issues myself, and it took me a long while to figure out for myself where my problems stemmed and how to change my thinking about them, and with the help of a fantastic friend who has only ever seen the great things about me, but how much quicker this could have occurred if I had True Face, and how happier I could have been in my own skin much sooner!
Having had to work things out for myself, I can honestly say this book is absolutely spot on, and will help so many teens. True Face is inspiring, empowering, and ultimately freeing. An incredibly important book, and one all teen girls should own.
Thank you to Faber & Faber for the review copy....more
There aren't many YA novels on reincarnation that I've read, so when I heard that Lauren James' debut novel would be about reincarnation and3.5 Stars.
There aren't many YA novels on reincarnation that I've read, so when I heard that Lauren James' debut novel would be about reincarnation and science, I was desperate to read it. The Next Together is a unique story, and absolutely gripping - but a little disappointing.
In 1745, Katherine Finchley, a well born woman, and Matthew Galloway, her coachman, fall in love while trying to help protect the city of Carlisle from a siege against the Jacobite rebels. In 1854, Katy is an orphan trying to get herself out of poverty by pretending to be a boy to get work. She is working for Matthew Galloway, journalist for The Times. Together, they are covering the Crimean wore on the front lines, and when Matthew discovers Katy is a girl, they slowly develop feelings for each other. In 2019, Matthew and Katherine Galloway are a married couple, biologists working for Central Science Laboratories. When they discover that their employers are trying to create a biological weapon and attempt to stop them, they are killed and accused of terrorism. In 2039, Kate Finchley an Matt Galloway are studying biology at the University of Nottingham. When they discover that they were both related to the terrorists Matthew and Katherine Galloway, they try to find out exactly what they discovered and what happened to them, falling in love along the way. What they don't know is that they are all the same two people, reincarnated time and again, destined to find each other and subtly change the world.
I absolutely love how this story is told! In every chapter, we follow the story of all the Katherines and Matthews, jumping from timelines and geographic locations. We see them fall in love repeatedly, but each incarnation of the two is passionate about doing good and doing the right thing, and are incredibly brave in the risks they take to do so, no matter what year they're living in. We discover the story of Matthew and Katherine Galloway of 2019 through notes left on the fridge, comments made on social media, and articles online, as well as through the research of Kate and Matt in 2039. Those two timelines are the two most connected; Katherine was Kate's aunt and Matthew was Matt's uncle, neither believe what has been reported about the married couple, and are desperate to find out. Both having an understanding of biology helps as they understand exactly what they're relatives were doing. Snooping into something that got the 2019 couple killed is highly dangerous, and you're constantly on edge. But there's danger in every timeline; during the Siege of Carlise and the Crimean War, becoming a casualty is a very high risk.
What's awesome is, as you're reading along, you're very much aware that you're not the only one following all these incarnations of the couple. Fairly often throughout the book, you will get what are almost commands put into a computer (does anyone remember DOS? You know the letters on the black screen? It's very similar to that). Their lives were being manipulated by those who were observing them. Each incarnation is some kind of an assignment, and there is an objective of each assignment, but one we, the readers, and the incarnations, know about. It was fascinating! What exactly are these people watching wanting all the Katherines and Matthews to do? Why are they so keen on keeping them alive? Why are they assignments? What is the objective? How is it possible that they are able to "reboot" the incarnations in new timelines? What's happening?! Oh my god, so gripping!
I did have to suspend disbelief pretty early on, though. I found that, no matter year it was, all incarnations fell in love far too quickly and easily - especially as we don't get to know much about them in any year. The focus is on their relationship, and what's happening in that timeline, rather than on who these people are. Every incarnation of Matthew has an interest in farming. Every incarnation of Katherine is pretty humorous and is inclined to constantly take the mick out of Matthew. But other than that, we don't know much about them as people. I did find 2019 Matthew and Katherine to be the most interesting incarnations, because Katherine was just so funny! She really was hilarious, but we never actually meet her, as their whole story is told through notes on the fridge, etc. Those incarnations are the only ones that show much personality, because it comes through in their notes to each other. However, I would just let it go that I wouldn't really know the incarnations, and they were going to fall in love easily because they had already been in love with each other so many times before. I let it go, and just enjoyed the story for what it was, and spent most of the story feeling excited and eager to know what was going to happen next for all of them!
But then we got to the end of the stories, for each incarnation, and I felt hugely let down. I can understand why some of the incarnations' stories ended the way they did - they kind of needed to for the sake of future incarnations, despite feeling unsatisfactory. But the ending to the whole book was so disappointing. We are told what happens, rather than get to actually see it. A decision is made, and then the prologue tells us, in a few pages, what happened as a result of that decision. I know there is going to be a sequel, and a lot of questions will be answered, but the things we are told about are huge! It would have been so much more satisfying to have read them as they happened, rather than be told after the fact. Sure, it would have made the story quite a bit longer, but I think it would have been worth it. The ending of The Next Together has got to be one of the biggest ending let downs I've ever read. I wasn't happy, and I felt cheated.
Saying that, the book on the whole is incredible. It's so very easy to get completely drawn in and immerse yourself in the different stories happening in the one book. It's a fantastic combination of sci-fi, historical, mystery, romance and dystopian, and for the most part, it works brilliantly! I really am so eager to find out what will happen in the next book, The Last Beginning - I just hope it has a far better ending.
Thank you to Walker Books for the reading copy....more
Having loved Love & Misadventure, and with Valentine's Day coming up, I decided to buy the follow up book of love poetry, Lullabies by Lang Leav. And it was just as beautiful as the first!
Leav writes with her usual seemingly simple but actually complex style, with a musical theme to this book. Lullabies is split into three chapters, Duets, Interlude and Finale, with Finale as the longest chapter, taking up over half the book, and full of poems of relationships ended, love lost, or love unrequited. Because of this, there is much more heartbreak and sadness in Lullabies than in Love & Misadventure, and, although I adore Leav's beautiful poems full of joy, I do really enjoy the tragic, so I completely immersed myself in the sorrow in the book, and it was exquisite.
Like Leav's first book, Lullabies is so emotionally raw, I was moved by almost every page. I had my little moments of awe, little epiphanies, and he desire to rip certain poems out of the book and post them to people. Poetry books with detachable pages should definitely be a thing. Unnecessary for either of Leav's books, though, as she offers a Posted Poems service on her website, where you can have your chosen poem printed on parchment paper and posted to your recipient, which is just beautiful.
As with my review for Love & Misadventure, I'm going to link to my favourite poems from Lullabies on Pinterest (where I'm able), as if I was to quote them, this review would end up being really young. Each of these poems touched me or moved me in ways that had me seriously wanting to turn over the corners of the pages so I could always find them, even though that's sacrilege; When, Clocks, That Night, Broken Hearts, Wounded, For You, Always With Me, Love's Inception, and The Dream.
A beautiful, beautiful book, and I absolutely cannot wait for Leav to publish another book. I need this lady's writing in my life. ...more
Having loved Sex and Violence, I was really excited when I heard Carrie Mesrobian was writing and LGBTQ YA nOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Having loved Sex and Violence, I was really excited when I heard Carrie Mesrobian was writing and LGBTQ YA novel. When I read in Cynthia of Afterwritten's review that there was a fair amount of sexual content in Cut Both Ways too, I was thrilled that I'd be able to read it for Sex in Teen Lit Month II. Despite Cynthia's review I read being negative and being a little worried about my enjoyment, I loved Cut Both Ways!
Will finds himself confused about his sexuality when he kisses his best mate, Angus, during a drunken night. Though he's never had much luck, he's always liked girls, so suddenly realising that he enjoyed kissing Angus is a shock. Is he gay? How can he be gay when he likes girls? Which is proven when he starts dating a hot girl from school he's really into, Brandy. Even so, Will finds he can't keep away from Angus. He knows he needs to stop cheating, but he doesn't want to give up either; both give him something, and he needs all the good he can get as his life is turned upside down. His parents are divorced and haven't got on since they split up. There seems to be a tug of war between them, and a constant digs at the other. Going from his mum's to his dad's is a pain, especially as his dad is renovating their house, but never seeming to get much done and drinking a lot more than he should. As things spiral out of control, Angus and Brandy are the only things keeping him going, along with his job in a diner, and he doesn't know what to do, who to choose.
I really, really enjoyed this book! When it comes to sexuality, Cut Both Ways looks at the confusion when you don't actually know who you are. Will doesn't understand his sexuality, what his sexual identity is. It's like there's an either/or - straight or gay - to him, but not both, and he's confused. As problematic as some people might find it, I found Will's confusion really fascinating as he tries to work things out. He knows he's not gay, because he's always fancied girls, but doesn't understand how he can be attracted to Angus too. Angus, who is openly gay, thinks Will is gay too - despite the fact he knows Will has a girlfriend. Although it's not said, it's like he thinks Will being with Brandy is just a cover up, to hide his sexuality, or for Will to hide from it - '"I wish you were glad you were gay too," he says. "Or just would admit it."' (p316). It seemed a little odd to me that Angus doesn't seem to consider bisexuality/sexual fluidity for Will. Mesrobian wrote an Author's Note on the subject of Will's confusion, and bisexual erasure:
'The word "bisexual" never once appears in the story, and readers may wonder why Will doesn't come to identify himself in this way. That Will doesn't even consider this is an example of "bisexual erasure." Bisexual erasure is the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders, as well as the tendency to emphasize sexual identities in people that fit the observer's own narrative, e.g. a man who is bisexual is really a gay man in denial; a woman who is bisexual is just doing it for male attention. Bisexual erasure can be perpetuated by gay or straight people. [...] I don't know what Will's identity is. Even if I did know, I think it's more interesting for the reader to contemplate what he is and what he might be than for me to label with certainty. What I do know is that we need to work for a world where it is easier for kids like him.' [sic] (p341-342)
There are a number of sex scenes in Cut Both Ways, but they're not gratuitous. There's detail, but a sex scene doesn't last pages and pages; it's half a page up to a page and a half long each time, and it's not written sexily nor clinically, but somewhere in between - it's real. Most of the sex scenes are towards the beginning. For Will with Brandy, most are the various stages of sexual foreplay over time before penetrative sex, and with Angus, there is no penetrative sex. Cut Both Ways is one of those books that has you question what constitutes as "sex". Heterosexual sex is generally considered to be penetrative, everything else being foreplay, but that's not necessarily the case when it comes to homosexual sex, and what I like with Cut Both Ways is that Mesrobian shows this, and even has Will refer to him and Angus touching each other and oral sex as sex. What's fascinating is that Will will receive a "blow job" from Brandy, but will have "sex" with Angus, even though the same act is performed - the only difference being is one or the other returns the favour when it comes to Will and Angus (a fact Will points out, saying he feels sorry for Brandy, because the favour isn't returned. It's almost like with straight foreplay, oral sex stands on it's own, and that can be it, without needing to be returned because it's not sex.).
Cut Both Ways is also the first book I've read that has its characters send each other sexual texts and photos, or take photos together (as opposed to having photos taken before a book starts, as in Deeper by Robin York). I didn't realise when I first started the book how old Brandy is at the beginning, but we find out later, and I was seriously uncomfortable with the idea of a 15-year-old sending such photos. Granted, Will is not the kind of guy who would share them - he actually is offended by the idea, those photos are special, they're his, and he's not showing anyone - and sure, it's something that happens, but it's still something I find really scary. However, as it's something that does happen, I do applaud Mesrobian for having her characters explore this other side to sexuality - had Brandy been a few years older, I don't think I would have had a problem, as there's at least a certain level of trust between the two of them. Though considering the fact that Will is cheating on her, she might be bothered about that trust being broken no matter her age.
When it's discovered that Will is having sex with Brandy by his mum and his dad's friend and his employer, Garrett, the "Be smart" conversation comes up from Garrett, and it takes a really interesting view of things.
'"You know it's not your choice," he says. "Whether you become a father. It's always the girl's choice." "What?" "I mean, you get her pregnant, it's no longer your call what she does with it. She can have an abortion, she can make you a daddy. You have to do the thinking way ahead of time. That's all I'm saying." "I don't think she wants to make me a daddy. Or anyone else, either, Garrett." "I get that, Will," he says [...]. "But once you let it loose that way"--he clears his throat again, and I wish I could be buried alive, the embarrassment's so bad--"it's not your decision. It's hers and hers alone. So if you don't want any kids and she does? Or she doesn't go get an abortion in time? Say she waits too long, deciding, and then can't? Well, then, there you go. Now you're someone's dad. Until you die, Until they die." "Garrett, I don't--" "That's what I mean," he says. "On the front end. On this side of things--that's where you're thinking's got to be. Not in crisis mode."' (p216)
This is such an interesting conversation, I've never heard the "always use condoms" conversation had this way. But it's something I have thought about myself; I hate that it takes two to create a baby, but, ultimately, the decision is down to the woman. If you're both on the same page, then great; both want to keep the baby, both want to abort it. But if you're on opposite sides, the guy is stuck with whatever the woman decides. I am all about women having the right to do with their body what they will, and if a woman wants an abortion she should have one, but I do find it upsetting that a guy who may want to be a dad won't be if the woman decides to abort, or is made a father because she decides to keep it. In an ideal world, the two would discuss things, and even if they're on opposite sides, they would come to a decision together, but that isn't always the case. I do think women being the only ones who can carry a child is unfair for both genders. Slam by Nick Hornby, which I reviewed for Sex in Teen Lit Month the first time round, is a really great book that looks at what happens when the woman decides to keep the baby the guy doesn't want.
But back to the book. I did really enjoy Cut Both Ways, but I felt let down by the ending. Things get towards a climax, maybe even reach it in some ways, but then it just ends. There's no resolution, not really. Not for Will, not for his family life. I know the book was 340 pages long, but I think if there were even 60 more, just to resolve things, the book wouldn't have been overly long, and there would be more of a conclusion. But still, a really great book, and I'll definitely be reading more of Mesrobian's novels in the future - going to keep my eye out for Perfectly Good White Boy!
Thank you to Carrie Mesrobian for the review copy....more
Jessamin has left her island of Melei to go to Albion, a grey and sunless country, to further her education. Because of her darker skin and hair, she is scorned and constantly called "island rat". But then she meets Finn; a beautiful, charming, aristocrat who takes a shine to Jessamin after saving her from an attack. Finn can't seem to stay away from Jessa, and soon she finds herself caught in the middle of a power struggle. For the nobility have magic in their blood, and the dangerous minister of defense, Lord Downpike wants more power, and believes Finn has the key. With more power, Lord Downpike believes Albion can take over and colonise the Iverian continent, just like they did to Melei. Now Finn has a weakness in Jessamin, and Lord Downpike will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
Firstly, can I just take a moment to say wow over that cover. It's absolutely gorgeous! So, so pretty! It's just a shame the book didn't wow me as much. It's not that Illusions of Fate is a bad story, I just think it's my personal taste when it comes to high fantasy. I like my high fantasy - even stand alones - longer and with a lot more detail. Illusions of Fate fell a little short for me.
However, Jessamin is a protagonist to admire. She has moved to a completely different country, a place she knows she will be thought of and dismissed as "other" for her race, for the purpose of learning more. Despite being very intelligent, because she's female, she can't study the advanced mathematics she longs to study, so she's studying history instead, while learning what she can in advanced mathematics in her spare time - not that she has much of it, having to work most hours outside of school at the hotel where she is staying, just to afford her servant's room. Jessamin is strong-willed and determined, and she won't let anyone tell her that she is undeserving of the future she wants because of her gender or race. She's formindable, and she's completely wonderful.
Jessa also has one hell of a backbone. She stands up to Finn when he treats her in anyway she deems unacceptable, whether it be him trying to wrap her up in cotton wool or control her in an effort to keep her safe. She makes her own choices and her own mistakes and she owns them. She won't be the a quiet little mouse that is happy to do whatever a man tells her to, simpering and without a thought of her own, like most of the women of Albion seem to do. She knows her own mind, and will not be swayed just because Finn is pretty and nice to her, or because of her ever-developing feelings for him - even if he genuinely does have her best interests at heart.
That makes it sound like Finn isn't a great guy, but that's not the case. The very reason that Finn notices Jessa is because she's her own person and stands up to him. Finn is actually a very caring person; not only does he care about Jessa, but about the world as a whole. He knows is Lord Downpike gets what he wants, there will be war and people will die. Albion, with Lord Downpike at the lead, will invade and force their power over anyone in their way, until it has conquered. Finn is the only person standing in the way of Lord Downpikes schemes, and until Jessa, he's put everything else aside to make sure the uneasy peace continues. I didn't really feel the romance, though. Finn seems to get very attached to Jessa so quickly, it's almost insta-love but without me feeling the emotion. It lacked for me; I didn't feel any real chemistry or tension between the two, despite the numerous times it was supposed to be there. I just didn't feel it.
And there wasn't enough world building for me. I like the politics of high fantasy, the manouvering and out-manouvering, struggles on a large scale. I think I would have preferred it if Lord Downpike got what he wanted, and then people went against him to try and stop him. It would have been a much bigger fight, a bigger stuggle. In Illusions of Fate, it's pretty much Finn against Downpike, and that's it, with Jessa standing by Finn's side. I didn't understand the magic fully, we didn't get too see that much of it in action, and in all, it was just a bit too nice. Even when he was being nasty, Lord Downpike was still very polite and well mannered. I know that's supposed to make him more sinister, but it just didn't work for me. There just wasn't enough of too many elements for me. I've read another high fantasy stand alone novel, so I know it can work, but Illusions of Fate just didn't cover what makes a high fantasy for me. This is more like high fantasy-light.
Illusions of Fate is a good story, but just not good enough for me, sadly. Do read some more reviews before deciding against reading it, though. It might be your cup of tea....more
I have sat here for a few minutes trying to work out how to start this review, because I'm simply still aweOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I have sat here for a few minutes trying to work out how to start this review, because I'm simply still awe at how beautiful The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt is, and I can't think of any better introduction than: Wow.
Limpet has just had to bury her mum. She is so full of grief and guilt, and her dad is having a hard time coping, so when her best friend Steffan suggests she go on road trip with him and their other friend Jared, she jumps at the chance to get away from it all for a while. What follows are several days of highs and lows, laughs and sadness, and the realisation of how important these two guys are to her. But things are changing. Not only has her mum died, but Steffan will soon be leaving. And underneath it all there are things no-one is saying, secrets that if brought out from hiding could destroy the one thing keeping Limpet going right now; their friendship.
The Last Summer of Us is such a beautiful novel. I don't want to say too much about it, because it's some things you should discover for yourself and enjoy as you read. There are plenty of things happening throughout the road trip, but it's more of a reflective novel, of Limpet's internal struggles. It's about Limpet (a nickname the boys call her), if not working her way through her grief, and the sadness over the way her whole life is now going to change, then accepting that this is what her life is now. That she no longer has a mother, that her best mate will be leaving, that the ground she's standing on isn't as solid as it once was, but that she can deal with that, eventually.
The relationship between the three friends is amazing. Theirs has got to be one of the best friendships I have read in YA. I loved both cheeky-chappy Steffan, and reserved, watchful Jared. They're all dealing with their own problems in this book, and it's just brilliant how they are all their for each other throughout. I loved them! I want to hang out with them all. It was so upsetting to know this awesome friendship would soon be changing, with Steffan leaving. And the sweet, sweet changes between Limpet and one of the guys as they start to see each other differently are just perfect. Sometimes, slow and careful can be really beautiful.
The writing is wonderful. There is such brilliant dialogue; the snappy banter between the three friends as they continually take the mick out of each other always had me smiling. But there are also some really beautiful moments where they actually talk, and wonderful phrasing when Limpet works things out for herself, when a key is turned and a lock clicks and she comes to realise things. And the descriptions! You can feel the heat of the hot summer sun, smell the musty dry grass, see the beautiful landscape. Harcourt really has a fantastic way of painting a brilliant picture for you with her writing, and it's just beautiful.
I had a personal reaction to this book, too. As I write this in February, I am dealing with my Nan's imminent death. I found Limpet's story and her getting herself to the point where she feels she'll be able to cope with the grief and the changes in her life really helpful and comforting. I know I'll soon be feeling like she does in certain parts of the novel, but she gets to the point where she knows there's a light at the end of the tunnel, even if she's not quite reached it yet, and it was such a relief to read it. Despite her story being very different from what I'm going through, this book came into my hands at exactly the right time, and I'm really grateful for this beautiful story.
The Last Summer of Us is a beautiful story of grief, friendship and hope, and one that has left me in complete awe. I will definitely read whatever Harcourt writes in future, and I want my own collection of snow globe moments.
Seeing as I absolutely loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, I absolutely had to read Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, Levithan's companion novel, this time featuring Tiny Cooper - but with a difference. This is the script for the play Tiny performs in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, where he gets to be the star. Sadly, I didn't love this as much.
Despite being a musical novel, through the directions, Tiny gives a more in-depth look into how he was feeling at each moment. However, it wasn't in-depth enough for me. I didn't feel I got to know Tiny any better than I did in WG, WG. I know it's a musical novel, but being a novel, even if in script form, I thought we'd still go deeper. But I guess the style doesn't really allow for that. Levithan's awesome writing style, with his beautiful way with words, doesn't get to shine as much, except in the stage directions.
We do get some really quirky songs, and on occasion some of the lyrics are quite touching, but in all they felt kind of cheesy - but seeing as this is Tiny's story, it was always going to be cheesy. Big and bold and in your face with a lot of glitter and sparkles. I'm a huge fan of musical theatre, and I loved some of the references made, and some of the songs I could actually almost hear as I was reading along. They didn't sound the same, but "Dude, You Couldn't Be Gayer", which is sun by Phil Wrayson and Tiny, really reminded me of "Thank Goodness" from Wicked, where Glinda sings about how she "couldn't be happier".
Despite not going as deep as I would like, and as funny as it could be with it's big, boldness, there were moments when Hold Me Closer was really quite moving. Towards the end, there are moments that overlap with WG, WG, and seeing those moments from Tiny's point of view, through the medium of song, it was really poignant. The songs get a little less cheesy, and a little more serious, and Tiny can be really quite emotional. It's really sweet, and yeah, I was moved.
However, I do think I would have preferred this to be an actual novel, and got into Tiny's head a little better, but saying that, that wouldn't be Tiny's story, that would be fitting Tiny's story into a shape they want, rather than what was really him. A musical novel is so Tiny, and probably the only way to tell it. It just wasn't something I could get into as much as I would have liked. But still, a quick, fun read, and getting to see those characters we fell in love with in WG, WG again is just awesome!
I have wanted to read More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera for ages, but for some reason the cover, and the fact that it hasTrigger Warning: Suicide.
I have wanted to read More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera for ages, but for some reason the cover, and the fact that it has been likened to the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, which I didn't like, put me off a little. I knew I would read it eventually because of the rave reviews, but it was always "later". I finally picked it up as it was part of Dahlia Adler's November Book Club, and oh my god, I wish I had read it so much sooner! This book is incredible!
A few months ago, Aaron's father committed suicide. It was completely out of the blue, and he has no idea why. Dealing with his grief and sadness has been tough. The only person he can really talk to is his girlfriend Genevieve; his friends don't really do real talk, his mum is almost always working to keep a roof over their head, and he's not that close to his brother Eric. The grief got too much for him, and now he's left with a smiling mouth scar on his wrist from a failed suicide attempt. He's now trying to piece his life back together. He's made a new friend in Thomas, a guy who lives not too far away, and he starts spending most of his time with him. Thomas allows Aaron to be himself, to talk about the sadness he still feels without judgement, and soon Aaron develops feelings for Thomas. But being gay is causing him more problems and more unhappiness. Maybe his only chance is to get the Leteo procedure, which will alter his memories and make him forget his feelings for Thomas. But can altering memories stop you from being who you are?
Oh my god, this is so, so brilliant, I can't even tell you! It's so clever, complex, deep and sad, but completely wonderful! I was completely engrossed in Aaron's story, which is such an interesting one, and had this huge twist I wasn't expecting at all. More Happy Than Not is set in the not too distant future, and feels very much like a contemporary novel; the Leteo Institute, where people are having memory-altering procedures to forget difficult times is the only sci-fi aspect of the story, and for a good long while, it's something that's going on in the background. Aaron knows someone who had the procedure and then moved, and he sees adverts for it and protests at his local institute, but it's not something that affects him. He's just a teenage boy living in the Bronx, trying to get over his father's suicide, experiencing firsts with his girlfriend, and making a new friend. It's not until much later, when Aaron realises he has feelings for Thomas, and Aaron starts to feel those feelings are problematic that the Leteo Institute comes into play.
'I know not being me will be a lie, but I know I'm doing myself a favor in the long run if I can somehow book a Leteo procedure. Because as I stand now, I have so much bullshit to look out for. Happiness shouldn't be this hard.' (p157)
What adds to the contemporary feel are all the pop culture references we're all going to recognise. Aaron is a bit of a geek, and one of his favourite places is his local comic book store, so there are a lot of Marvel and DC references. I was a tiny bit annoyed by the fake Harry Potter - Scorpius Hawthorne, a demonic boy wizard. All the references are so close to the real books (book three is called Scorpius Hawthorne and the Convict of Abbadon, and Emma Watson plays Scorpius' friend Lexa in the movies), it just seemed a little weird to not use the real books, but I guess there must have been some issue there.
I also loved how gritty and real this book is. It's set in the Bronx in New York. I don't know much about the Bronx, but I have this idea that it's a rough kind of place, and Silvera makes it feel that way; Aaron lives in a one bedroom apartment, with he and his brother sharing the front room as a bedroom. It's the summer and all three of them work - his mother has two jobs - and yet there is still very little money around. Aaron is living is such poverty, but it's so normal for him, that's it's not even really a major part of the book, but it's there in everything. His sort of best friend Brendan is a drug dealer, another friend in his group who is known as Me-Crazy (and actually talks in the third person about himself, calling himself Me-Crazy) can fly of the handle at any second and will beat the crap out of anyone, and his group is known to get into fights with the teenagers from the nearby group of apartments. They also have this street way of talking, that thankfully isn't too full of slang, because I don't understand it. It's also a diverse community; there are very few people in the cast of characters who are white. There's one character I assume is white because she has red hair and green eyes, and there are a few characters who's skin colour is mentioned, but for the most part the race of most characters isn't brought up at all, but there is the feel of a very diverse community. And with Aaron, we have an intersectional protagonist as a gay person of colour.
One of the things I loved about this book is how, even though Aaron is so severely unhappy for most of the book, it's not a book that drags the reader down. I find most books about such sadness are emotionally draining and exhausting, and leave you feeling empty, all the while being a book I'm wowed by. With More Happy Than Not, I was wowed without being pulled into Aaron's sadness, which is surprising, since suicide comes up a fair bit, either when Aaron is talking about his dad's suicide, his own suicide attempt, or suicidal thoughts that come up over the course of the story. I was still emotionally involved; I cared about Aaron, about what would happen to him, about where his life would go, and I was sad for him, but not the exhaustive sadness that leaves me feeling completely wiped out.
'Sometimes pain is so unimaginable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But pain can only help you find happiness if you can remember it.' (p270)
I can't really go into much more detail about the plot without spoiling things, but believe me there is a lot going on! Silvera has woven this incredible story that completely blew me away, and has such a turn of phrase; at times poetic, and at others so poignant.
'From the shapes cast by the green paper lantern, you would never know that there were two boys sitting closely to one another trying to find themselves. You would only see shadows hugging, indiscriminate.' (p136)
I must say that Silvera writes about pain and sadness in such an exquisite way, but in a way that, having read Silvera's post, Happiness Isn't Just an Outside Thing (trigger warning: he discusses suicidal thoughts), made me feel so sad for him and what he must have drawn on for the story. You can't read that post then read this book and not go, "Woah." It just makes this story mean a whole lot more - not plot-wise, but sadness-wise - and I feel like we've been given something very special. I know this is a review, but I'd like to add that I sincerely hope that Silvera gets through his dark times. We're better off for his talent.
An unbelievably beautiful novel, and I'm so excited to read whatever Silvera writes next. He's most definitely one to look out for....more
From the moment I heard about We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, I new I had to read it. And just like I hopOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
From the moment I heard about We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, I new I had to read it. And just like I hoped, it's amazing!
It starts off just looking like a blue star in the sky - but soon it is announced that star is actually an asteroid, named Ardor, and there's a 66.6% chance it's going to collide with Earth, and wipe out the human race. Four ordinary high school seniors' lives are turned upside down by the news; Peter, an athlete, Eliza, a budding photographer outcast for being promiscuous, Andy, a skater who spends his time getting high, and Anita, a high achiever who's parents always expect more, find themselves thrown together in the events leading up to Ardor's impact, have their worldview changed, and discover what it really means to be alive.
This book! Oh my god, this book! We All Looked Up is such a genius idea, the premise is fantastic and is so, so promising, but Wallach takes the story so much further than I expected! It's so thought-provoking, and leads you through all these little epiphanies about how you live your life, and what you should be doing with it. I am so excited by this story, and think it's going to be such a hit!
I'm not going to go into too much detail about the plot and events of this book, because I feel it's the kind of story where you should discover everything as you read it. I was most interested in Eliza and Andy's narrations. That's not to say that Peter and Anita's narrations weren't interesting, they were. In fact one of the brilliant things about We All Looked Up is how well Wallach wrote the voices of these four very different teens and kept them so distinct and individual. I loved them all! I just found their stories to be more emotional in the case of Eliza and just so different to anything I have experienced in the case of Andy. I think Andy was probably my favourite of all the characters; he was flawed and he got up to some really questionable and unwise things, partly due to his relationship with his best mate Bobo who is such a loose cannon, but he's also pretty funny, and I found some of his emotional moments really endearing. He makes some bad choices, but I think if he was helped on to the right path, he would be such a great guy. I really loved him.
I loved how sex was looked at in this book, especially into relation to Eliza and her sleeping around. She is shunned for it, which is really awful, but she's just a girl taking back her power after one kiss seems to ruin her life, in a way that she enjoys. The girl likes having sex, and there's nothing wrong with that, and it's so wonderful to see that juxtaposed with the grief and reputation she gets for it. Andy at one points mentions the "slut shaming" Eliza is on the receiving end of, and I know that's a common term, but considering everything it says about Eliza and her sex life, I wish the term was addressed; the term is basically saying "shaming a slut", which just isn't great. That word should just not be used, in general, even in a term that's meant to be against it - but that's just my opinion on terminology, not a put down on the book.
Peter was a really great guy. I loved how, even before anyone knew about Ardor, he was starting to rethink his view on life, because of a question asked by a really awesome teacher in class. Is what he plans to do with his life really worthwhile? And once Ardor makes it's presence known, that questions becomes a lot bigger, more important to him. He doesn't want to waste his life, whether there's a collision or not, he wants his life to count for something, wants to do something that matters. Here's this ordinary guy who's pretty nice, pretty smart, and pretty awesome athlete, who then becomes this amazing guy who wants to make a difference, somehow. I admired him so much. Anita is also a wonderful character who finds freedom in the announcement of Ardor's possible imminent collision. Life is short, so why spend it under the rule of parents who continually put too much pressure on you, and completely giving up on your dreams because they disagree with them? This girl has some guts to do what she does when the end of the world is nigh, and I thought she was just so brave. I do wish we also got some of Peter's sister Misery's point of view, who goes out with drug dealer Bobo, because I think her story would have been amazing!
I could go on and on about how completely awe-inspiring this book is, but as I said, I think you should discover it all yourself, but this is definitely going to be one of those books that I'm going to be talking about for a while. The climax at the end is just unbelievable and totally unexpected, and really had me getting emotional. We All Looked Up is just such a fantastic novel, an absolutely stunning debut and you all have to read it!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children's Books for the review copy....more
After hearing from Jim at YA Yeah Yeah that The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell was a really good book, I was really interested to read it for myself. Unfortunately, it didn't really do it for me.
Sora has ALS. He is going to deteriorate, lose control of his body, and eventually die. He is having a hard time coming to terms with this, especially when people look on him with pity. Sora's only solace is in the poems of long dead samurai, and talking to his online friends, who don't have to know about his condition - that is, until they meet. Sora is surprised to find that Mai and Kaito accept him for who he is, and still want him in their life. But as Sora progressively gets worse, he starts to question his quality of life.
I found The Last Leaves falling really difficult to get into. There is such a lack of contractions it would really distract me while reading. Constantly reading "do not", "it is", "I am" was really jarring and stopped the story flowing well for me. Unless I was reading the book for a long period of time where I could get used to the writing style - which wasn't often as I read during breaks at work and travelling to and from most of the time - it was a continuous struggle. When talking about this on Twitter, Rhys of Thirst for Fiction said how it felt like an actual translated work, although it's not, and I have to agree.
I also had trouble getting emotionally involved in the characters. There was something missing from this book for me that inhibited me from really caring, despite the subject matter. I just wasn't that bothered about Sora and his condition. The story was also a lot less about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Motor Neurone Disease as it's known in the UK) than I expected, too, and more about how Sora felt dealing with it, his emotional state. I was intrigued by how he was coping and what he thought about his uncooperating body, but I could have cared more than I did. I wanted to. It just wasn't working out that way for me.
But this might have to do with the fact that I found the characters to be quite immature most of the time. They felt a lot young than their actual ages, more like they were all 13 rather than quite a few years older, and I found them really frustrating. There was a lot of eye-rolling while I was reading.
It wasn't until the last third of the book that I got interested in any real way. I don't want to spoil the story, but it got more emotional, and only then did I start to feel something, did the story start to grab me. But by then it was too late, and the story was almost over.
However, I did find it interesting how Benwell used the group emails sent by "The S Club", that were trying to convince teens to rebel against adults and take a stand over not being heard and being controlled by taking part in mass suicide. It was a good way of contrasting with the events of the book, and having the two side-by-side made you think. It did feel quite intentional though, like those emails were there for this purpose of juxtaposition, rather than something naturally occurring within the story, which I was a little sad about.
I really enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture, it was really quite interesting reading about the samurais' poems, hearing the superstitions, the talk of food, and so on, but for a book set in Japan, there wasn't as much Japanese culture as I expected. The story was more about Sora and his condition, and his relationship with his friends, but I would have liked to understand and learn more.
Unfortunately, The Last Leaves Falling was quite lacking in a lot of areas for me, and I finished it feeling really disappointing. However, I know there are people who really enjoyed it, so do check out some other reviews before deciding whether to read it or not.
Thank you to Definitions at RHCB for the review copy. ...more
I do not know how to begin this review. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough took me completelOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I do not know how to begin this review. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough took me completely by surprise. It's beautiful, it moved me, and was not what I expected at all.
Henry, a white boy with an academic and wealthy future ahead of him, if he just does exactly what is expected of him by his adoptive family - who do not view him as family. Flora, a black girl who spends her nights singing to make ends meet, but dreams of a life in the sky - a dream that seems as far away as the sky itself. Love and Death, who chose them as their unknowing players in a game they have no say in. When they meet, their lives are turned around, the attraction immediate. But romance isn't easy when you're from different backgrounds - having to work hard for every cent, or having everything you're told you need handed to you; being inconsequential for being white, or being noticed and scorned for being black. But when love finds you, it's hard to ignore - even when it's all a game.
Oh, how I loved this book! And there are so many reasons for it! It's so beautifully written, and so quotable! Brockenbrough has some wonderful, gorgeous insights into love, death, and life, and a way with words that just beg to be read out loud! For this reason alone, The Game of Love and Death captured my heart, but the story! It reminded me at times of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, but with Love and Death as those who set up the game, it's such an original and thought-provoking story! The way Love and Death manipulate situations or the people around their players reminded me so much of a game of chess; tactics and strategies, moving pieces into place, but on such a larger scale with such unbelievable effects, it was wonderful to watch.
Henry and Flora were such amazing characters. Henry is so romantic; his love for Flora was pure and so, so sweet. He adored her, and sees not her skin colour, but the beauty of who she is. He is completely enamoured by her, and by her gorgeously lush voice. A musician himself, he is completely captivated by the music made in her club, by the way she sings. Flora is incredible! She loves Henry, without a doubt, but she's a realist. She's black, he's white, it's simply not going to work. Rather than have her heartbroken, she fights how she feels at every turn. She's independent and fierce, and will not have this get in the way of her life, of her dreams. How I loved this girl, despite her pessimism, her certainty that there is no way. She is strong-willed and determined, and such a fantastic heroine! We need more girls like Flora in YA! Girls who are not willing to drop everything for a boy! Even though I was rooting for them both throughout, I admired Flora for her strong sense of self, of her steady head, and for not turning completely into a pile of goo because of a smile and some nice words from a boy. I just loved her!
Neither Love nor Death are who you think they would be. They are complex beings, pawns themselves in their own roles. Neither Love nor Death is completely good nor completely bad, and they have their own stories too. The game isn't just a form of entertainment for them, it's not just about winning or losing; by losing, both will suffer. Though Love is full of compassion and joy at the beauty in life - especially of the most amazing emotion in existence, Love has also never won. This can make him a little desperate, and some of his actions are shocking. Death, despite her cruel and manipulative ways at times, is the character I found most sympathetic of the two. She's not all she seems, but not only does she have her part to play, she has an endless hunger, a hunger than must be fed.
There was another part of this story that had me wanting to shout for joy! The human embodiment of Love - whose embodiment is male - develops feelings for a guy. In the 1930s, when homosexuality was seen as repugnant. The significance was not lost on me; Love doesn't see gender, or gender matters not at all to Love. Love embraces love, there is no wrong when it comes to love, no matter who you love. I cannot tell you how much I loved seeing this subplot! Seeing this was just so beautiful, I can't even tell you. And Love's thoughts on such things, oh my god!
'"The powerful are happy to send men to the front lines of war and have their limbs shot off. But should that man ask a question, he's a traitor. This same system could condemn injustice, but instead it chooses to condemn something as simple and as fundamental as the search for the second half. We are all born wanting this. Why does it matter what shape this second half takes, provided it is the thing both seeks? [...] Why choose fear over love? In what world does that make sense?"' (p179)
The Game of Love and Death is quite simply breathtaking, for so many reasons. And you all need to discover just how incredible this book is for yourself.
Thank you to Scholastic for the reading copy. ...more
I am such a huge fan of Rachel Vincent's Shifters series, that when I heard that she was releasing Hunt, a sOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I am such a huge fan of Rachel Vincent's Shifters series, that when I heard that she was releasing Hunt, a short story starring her younger cousin, Abby, I was eager to jump back into that world. Hunt is brilliant!
Abby is spending some time camping with her friends in the woods, and takes the chance to escape from her friends for a while so she can shift into her cat form - being at college, it's been such a long time since her last shift, and she's enjoying stretching her feline muscles. But when she hears terror filled screams from the camp site, she knows, with her advantages as a shifter, she's their best shot at survival. Despite her remembered fear of when she was locked up and attacked four years previously trying to suffocate her, Abby will do all she can to save her friends.
Previously published in the Chick's Kick Butt anthology, but edited and self-published by Rachel Vincent to bridge the Shifters series to her new paranormal romance new adult Wildcats series, Hunt is a brilliant short story! It's great to immerse myself back into that familiar world, but also cool to have a story from a different perspective. Abby is a great protagonist, and has learnt a lot from Faythe - not just how to defend herself, but also some of the attitude. She's got spirit and courage, and she won't just sit back and let her friends get hurt, despite an order from her Alpha, Jace.
I don't want to spoil the story, but it's quite a horrific one, not just in violence and gore, but in other areas too. Considering Abby's past, the girl has real chutzpah, and the things she discovers... so disturbing. I already love Abby, so I'm seriously excited for Lion's Share! Though I'm a little nervous as these books will be paranormal romance rather than urban fantasy, and I'm not the biggest paranormal romance fan. It's Vincent, though, and I love this world, so I'm sure it's going to be amazing!
A great short story, and a must read for fans want to make the jump from the Shifters series to the Wildcats series....more
Sometimes in your life, something will happen that will deeply affect you. Maybe it will be an event, somethOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Sometimes in your life, something will happen that will deeply affect you. Maybe it will be an event, something someone said, someone you meet, or a book you happen to pick up and read. I have been deeply affected by All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin. And I know there are no words I can say that will get across just how incredible this book is.
With the description above, I don't need to summarise the novel, it does it perfectly. All the Bright Places is undeniably one of the best books I have ever read. The first half to two thirds of the book are wonderful; I was inspired to go places and see things, I was inspired to create my own version of The Wall, where Finch pastes all his song ideas, quotes, or anything else that he likes or affects him in some way. It was fun, it was adventurous, it was funny, it was sweet! I fell in love with Finch right along with Violet. He's eccentric and quirky, and yes, he has a mental illness, but when things are good, he is really good! He's this wonderful, beautiful boy, and I was happy to go along for the ride All the Bright Places was taking me on, because I couldn't get enough of Finch.
But when things are bad, they're really bad. As the story goes on, we discover Finch has bipolar, though he doesn't like labels. He talks about his life as stages, when he's Awake and when he's Asleep. When he's Asleep is when things get bad; weeks of darkness. Even though I've read the book, I couldn't fully describe to you what Asleep is like, all I have is Finch's descriptions, and seeing him as he declines, and it's scary. It's terrifying. Watching this wonderful, beautiful boy fraying, coming undone, unravelling. You just want to hold all of him together before he completely comes apart. As the book is told from both Finch and Violet's points of view, we, the readers, know more about Finch's mental state than Violet does, and it leaves me so torn. She doesn't know, she doesn't know he needs help, but at the same time... the signs. I really struggled with Violet towards the end, I really did. But that's because I knew, and she didn't, and what can she do if she doesn't know just how bad it is? Finch is good at hiding. This brilliant boy is suffering, but does all these wonderful things for the grieving, immobile Violet. He brings her back to life as he fades from his own.
All the Bright Places broke me. It ripped my heart out, but in the best possible way. I am fighting back tears as I write, not only because of how heartbreaking this story is, but also because it's loosely based on Niven's own experiences from several years back. There was a Finch, and Niven was Violet. I don't know how much of the real people are in the characters, how many of the experiences they had actually happened, but you can tell from the Author's Note and the Acknowledgements at the end that there are a few things that are true. A boy who wrote a song for a girl who ran an online magazine. Things may not have happened exactly as they did in the book, but there was a boy. And I can't stop thinking about that boy, that real Finch, and it's just so painful. Niven is an incredibly brave, brave woman for writing their story, even fictionalised. I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must have been. But this boy, whoever he was, he lives in the pages of All the Bright Places, and together, Finch and Violet will touch countless lives.
After lovingLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, I was so excited when I heard about What We Left Behind! However, it was quite a difficult read, and I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed it in the end.
Gretchen and Toni have been the perfect couple for almost two years; so in love, and completely inseparable. So when the time comes to go to college, a rift is caused between them when, the day before, Gretchen reveals she'll actually be attending NYU and not going to college in Boston, like Toni. Toni is mad at Gretchen, Gretchen feels terribly guilty, and having to deal with being further apart than planned is seriously difficult. But at Harvard, Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, signs up to a LGBTQ group, and makes friends with a number of trans people. In this new environment, Toni starts to think more about Toni's gender identity, what it means, what fits, and Gretchen begins to discover just who she is when she's not known as "Toni's girlfriend". Can their love survive the distance and embrace the new people they're becoming?
This book isn't what I thought it was about. When I first heard about it, there wasn't much description yet; it was a LGBTQ love story where one of the narrators is genderqueer. As I said, I loved Lies We Tell Ourselves, hearing that Talley would again be tackling an LGBTQ story I hadn't read before, I was so excited. I was expecting a nice (though hard) college romance, and to learn more about genderqueer. What We Left Behind is actually a lot more about indentity - specifically Toni's gender identity - than it is about romance. Gretchen and Toni's romance is the backdrop to Toni's story of self-discovery.
Toni identifies as genderqueer, which falls under than trans umbrella; as Toni puts it, Toni knows Toni isn't female, but isn't quite sure that Toni is male, either. The reason I keep repeating Toni's name instead of using male or female pronouns (he/his or she/her) is because Toni doesn't like them being used in relation to Toni. The way I'm writing right now is how Gretchen talks about Toni all the time, and how Toni talks about most people. That is until Toni decices to experiment with other pronouns, such as they/them or the pronouns created to be gender neutral, ze/hir. What We Left Behind is full of Toni's ideas when it comes to gender politics and how there is no gender binary (I.E. the gender binary being male and female, when it's more of a spectrum, as Toni's gender identity shows, where people can fall somewhere between the two). This isn't just because of Toni's own gender identity, but because Toni thinks the English language is full of sexism. There is a wonderful conversation with a transman, Pete, who gets a little annoyed with Toni refusing to use gendered pronouns, pretty much saying that he had to fight hard enough as it is to get people to see him (Pete) as male, it's not so great when Toni refuses to acknowledge his gender by using the gendered pronouns he wants people to use for him. There are a lot of really interesting conversations like this throughout the book.
The focus is mostly on Toni's gender identity, though. Toni is so confused; as I said, Toni knows Toni isn't female, but the more time Toni spends around Toni's new trans friends, the more confused Toni gets. Toni wonders if Toni will be genderqueer Toni's whole life, or if at some point Toni will feel more male and become a transman. But is that what Toni wants? With Toni's annoyance with the English language and labels, Toni also experiments with various labels to describe how Toni feels about Toni's gender identity; as well as genderqueer, Toni tries gender variant, gender non-conforming, there's talk about non-binary, and a few others are tried on and discarded, because nothing really feels right to Toni. Despite not liking labels, Toni is upset about not know what Toni is, and not knowing if Toni will ever stop feeling this way.
Then there's Gretchen. Her girlfriend, Toni, is going through all these changes, but what does that mean for her? She's so confused about what this all means. If Toni becomes a transman, would that make her straight? But she's a lesbian. She loves Toni, but would Toni still be attracted to her if Toni becomes a man? Would she still be attracted to Toni? She doesn't understand and these questions keep flying around her head, but she doesn't ask any of them because she's worried about things coming out wrong and offending Toni. And Toni doesn't talk to Gretchen about these things, partly because Toni is still mad at her, but also because Toni doesn't think Gretchen will understand. And all the while, Gretchen is berrating herself, feeling awful for having these questions because it doesn't really matter, not really, she should just be Toni's supportive girlfriend and do whatever she can to help Toni. But then she'll be involved in conversations were Toni is talking about Toni's gender identity, and there will be decisions Toni's made that come out of left field for Gretchen because Toni never told her. So Gretchen ends up hurt because she doesn't know what's going on in her girlfriend's head, but again, doesn't want to ask.
These two wound me the hell up, I swear. There is zero communication for much of the story, and their relationship is unbelievably unhealthy. Toni ends up being really quite selfish, worrying about themself and getting annoyed at the idea of talking to Gretchen, because what's the point, she doesn't get it, and Gretchen is bending over backwards to be there for Toni, and ends up being quite obsessed about when she'll hear from Toni next, what's Toni's going to say, because she loves Toni, she needs Toni, she can't do without Toni. It's really uncomfortable to read. Not only that, but they're at college, they're 18, but the way they both act when it comes to their relationship, feels so juvenile! Yes, they have major changes to contend with, but they're grown ups now, and need to stop acting like young teenagers.
As educational as this book is, it's also serious heavy. There is so much information on various gender identities and pronouns, and I do feel enlightened, but I also felt bloody exhausted once I finished it. There are so few books out there on genderqueer people, so this is such a hugely important book, but there is barely any let up. Gretchen's chapters are where you feel like you can breath a little easier, but even she spends a lot of time thinking about Toni and Toni's gender identity. No matter what's happening at any point with Toni, Toni is talking or thinking about Toni's gender identity. But I finished the book not knowing if this story of confusion on Toni's part is how most genderqueer people feel all the time, or if that was just how Toni was dealing with Toni's gender identity. It just felt like too much, all at once. This is my first experience of reading a book about a genderqueer peerson, so I don't know if I'm being insensitive or not - I apologise if I am.
What We Left Behind is a pretty good and important book, and one you will definitely learn from.
I first heard about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills during LGBT+ April, run by CaycOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I first heard about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills during LGBT+ April, run by Cayce of Niji Feels (then Fighting Dreamer) and Laura Plus Books, and actually won my copy in a giveaway during the event. It received so much praise during the month, I was really interested to read it. There was just one thing that made me wary; although I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, I don't have great knowledge of music in general, or major interest in music outside of the songs themselves. Would I get this book, or would it go on about things I have no clue about? Happily, I had nothing to worry about, and Beautiful Music was a brilliant read!
Gabe is mad about music, it's his whole life. He spends a lot of his time hanging out with his old neighbour, John, listening to music, and hearing John's tales of his time as a DJ. John has managed to get Gabe a slot on the local community radio station, and so starts Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, his own radio show. The only thing is, not many people know him as Gabe - not even John. Gabe only recently came out as a trans male to his family and best friend a few months back. Everyone else knows him as Liz. His family are having trouble coming to terms with it, and, despite not knowing he's trans, he has been bullied for quite a while at school for not dressing like a "regular" girl. But on his show, he can be himself, right? That is until one listener finds out that Gabe was known as Liz before he graduated, and outs him to all his fans on Facebook. And then the threats begin.
Beautiful Music is a really great story! Gabe is such a great character! He is brave and wonderful, but just like any other teenager. He's really into his music, he has girl problems, he gets excited by the awesome opportunities that come his way, and... he's just wonderful! I loved his voice, his humour, his relationship with John. He's just a really nice guy. And despite the fact this book gets quite serious more than once, it's mostly an uplifting, feel good book, and left me smiling.
I don't want to spoil the story, so I'm not going to go too much into the plot, but I will talk about the things I enjoyed. The relationship between John and Gabe is wonderful. John is 71, and a radio legend. For Gabe, who lives right next door to him, he's one of his closest friends; he's his mentor and he's family. John doesn't treat Gabe like a child, and Gabe doesn't treat John like a doddering old man. They learn from each other, they debate and argue about music, and share vinyl, CDs and cassettes. John will captivate Gabe with his stories from him time as a DJ, and Gabe will listen raptly. There's is a beautiful relationship!
I also loved the relationship between Gabe and his best friend Paige. They have been best friends since kindergarten, and despite only finding out a few months before the book starts, Paige stand by her friend. Their relationship is just so brilliant. There are moments where things get rocky for multiple reasons, but you can just tell there is that solid foundation of love that their friendship is built on, and it's wonderful seeing them together. When they're there for each other, when they're joking and laughing together. It's so lovely to see such a strong friendship - despite the issues they deal with in the book.
There's one character I have to mention. Heather Graves. She's wonderful. Her sexual orientation isn't discussed, but she is attracted to Gabe at the start of the book, when to most people Gabe is still Liz, and despite what most people think of him then, she seems to accept him as he is, even though she doesn't know him all that well. And when she knows Liz is now Gabe, she's still interested. It doesn't make a difference to her. It reads like it's not to do with her sexuality, and it's not to do with Gabe's gender, it's simply to do with Heather being attracted to this individual person, to Gabe. Again, I don't want to discuss the plot for spoiler reasons, but I think it's just fantastic that a character like her exists in YA fiction. More characters who see and are attracted to people rather than genders, please!
Beautiful Music is a really wonderful book. There are some really grim and disgusting moments, but there are so many beautiful and wonderful moments, too. Hopeful moments. Beautiful Music is an incredible story, and if you like LGBTQ YA, I implore you to read it!...more