Here We Are Now

Here We Are Now – Jasmine Warga

After absolutely loving My Heart and Other Black Holes I jumped at the chance to read Jasmine Warga’s next book and this didn’t disappoint!

Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.
Julian asks if Taliah if she will drop everything and go with him to his hometown of Oak Falls, Indiana, to meet his father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. Taliah, torn between betraying her mother’s trust and meeting the family she has never known, goes.
With her best friend Harlow by her side, Taliah embarks on a three-day journey to find out everything about her ‘father’ and her family. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.

Essentially this book is two separate threads of the same story, we have Taliah’s story of finally meeting the absent rock star father, of going on a trip with him to meet the family she has never known where we see her insecurities and anxieties play out in this situation. Alongside that, we get the backstory, the tale of her parents, how they met, how they came together and how they ended up where they are now, we learned the story alongside Taliah which made me feel like I could really get immersed in the story. Also, much like her first book, which beautifully tackled the subject of depression, this book realistically portrays Taliah’s anxieties and insecurities in a relatable and understandable way and her friendship with Harlow had me nodding along and going SAME every time she examined it further.

This doesn’t have quite the same emotional impact as My Heart, but is still a story that tugs on the heart strings. The book essentially ends, just as Taliah’s story is beginning, creating a wonderful tableau for the rest of her life. There is an argument that this is a bit style over substance, but you really don’t mind when the characters are as interesting as Tal and her family. Also, you’ve got to love a story with a diverse cast, Tal is biracial, having a Jordanian mother and white American father, her best friend Harlow is a lesbian. There were a lot of references to things like Hamilton which I wasn’t sure if I liked, like, I love Hamilton and I love a good reference, but also having it mentioned several times made me feel a bit… odd.

Overall though, this was just very cute and a bit fluffy and on these cold wintery nights, that’s all you want.

Advertisements

The Year they Burned the Books

The Year they burned the books – Nancy Garden

It has been far too long since I’ve read a book by Nancy Garden, I read Annie on my Mind about a million years ago and although it was a little dated, I did enjoy it and am a little ashamed its taken me this long to pick up another of her books. As this book from the nineties is being re released I grabbed a copy from Netgalley!

When Wilson High Telegraph editor Jamie Crawford writes an opinion piece in support of the new sex-ed curriculum, which includes making condoms available to high school students, she has no idea that a huge controversy is brewing. Lisa Buel, a school board member, is trying to get rid of the health program, which she considers morally flawed, from its textbooks to its recommendations for outside reading. The newspaper staff find themselves in the center of the storm, and things are complicated by the fact that Jamie is in the process of coming to terms with being gay, and her best friend, Terry, also gay, has fallen in love with a boy whose parents are anti-homosexual. As Jamie’s and Terry’s sexual orientation becomes more obvious to other studetns, it looks as if the paper they’re fighting to keep alive and honest is going to be taken away from them. Nancy Garden has depicted a contemporary battleground in a novel that probes deep into issues of censorship, prejudice, and ethics.

I am sad to say that there are still people who have to live in this kind of community, where their education and their rights are diminished every day by fundamentalists, so even though this is a rerelease of an older book and feels a little dated in places, this is still a little bit too fresh in terms of the rampant homophobia that Terry and Jamie experience throughout the book.

What we have here is the perfect starter novel for anyone looking for YA LGBTQA+ fiction, Nancy Garden presents such interesting characters in these books. Jamie, our main character, is an intelligent high school student who decides to start running her own paper alongside the school paper to try and keep the town informed on the news she isn’t allowed to report on due to the censorship imposed by an extreme church group. The book deals with her struggles, not only with her sexuality, but with the issues of truth and opinion and the difficult line between the two, as well as the ideas of community and what brings people together and tears them apart. All tropes that Nancy Garden does so well.

Though this isn’t necessarily ground breaking or diverse, especially when surrounded by books released more recently, The Year They Burned the Books is still sadly relevant and is a story that needs to be told.

Also, that cover is vewy nice.

The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz – Antonio Iturbe (translated by Lilit Thwaites)

You probs already know this, but I will read anything and everything about the events of WW2, the rise of the Nazis and the extraordinary bravery displayed by those that were persecuted under Hitler, so naturally when I saw this, I had to pick it up. Also, its a translation and I’ve never read anything that wasn’t originally published in English before. (At least I don’t think I have…)

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 
Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

This is a mostly fictionalised account of the lives of a selected number of prisoners living in the family camp that was created as part of Auschwitz-Birkenhau, it features some of the notable inmates that I learned about when I visited a few years ago (maybe that’s a story for another time) as well as some of the more infamous names from the SS. It mostly follows the story of Fredy Hirsch, who managed to convince the commanders to allow him to set up a school in the camp and into which some books were smuggled, which were looked after by 14 year old Dita. Most of the inhabitants of this part of the camp were arrivals which had been marked for ‘special treatment’ and was one of the few places where children were allowed to live, rather than being sent straight to their deaths. It was a place of particular interest to Dr Mengele, who if you haven’t heard of, I recommend looking up, especially if you need a face to put to the word evil.

Like I said at the beginning, this version is a translation, so there are a few moments that feel like they’ve lost their context or features a strange word choice, I kind of wish I was more proficient with languages so I could read the original, but alas, languages aren’t really something that schools focus on in England. More’s the pity. I think this might be the first book I’ve ever read that has been translated into English and I’d love to expand my reading habits into more translated books if any of ya’ll can think of some to recommend.

The Librarian of Auschwitz is endlessly fascinating and heartbreaking and bitter sweet. It gives a detailed account of camp life and is unapologetic in its telling of the more harrowing moments the prisoner’s endured there. We learn about these incredibly brave people, like Fredy Hirsch, who wanted to make life as normal for the children in his care as possible and like Dita Kraus, who miraculously managed to survive the camps and after the war made her way to Israel. I wish there were more books like this telling the stories of those who were voiceless for so long and it is so important that we remember and we learn from these events, so we can make sure that such horrors are not repeated.
It is certainly a great book for those studying the period or with a particular interest in Nazi Germany and the occupation of Europe, it’s also interesting as many of the characters you come across in this book are of Romani descent, as well as Jewish and it also gives a little insight into places like Prague, which are often left out of history lessons.

Otherworld

Otherworld – Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

I have no idea where to start with this! Do you ever read a book where you like it, but not as much as you wanted to? So like, it was alright, but that sounds too much like I disliked it, which I didn’t… Man, do I have thoughts!

The company says Otherworld is amazing—like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive—that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.
Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
And it’s about to change humanity forever.
Welcome to the Otherworld. No one could have seen it coming.

I first heard of this book while persuing the proofs available to win at YALC back in the summer and I remember being mind blown that Jason Segal had his name on a book cos like, that’s Marshall from HIMYM (turns out he’s actually a bestselling author WHO KNEW?!?)

It was while I was at YALC that I first heard the premise and got a bit excited for this book, I’d read and loved Ready Player One and this sounded similar and there was a lot of hype about WarCross at the time too, so I figured books about games were going to be the new big thing. Well my experience of gaming is pretty much limited to Donkey Kong and Mario Kart 8 (I’m an insomnia, so Mario and I are very well acquainted) and now having read two books about gaming, I’m quite happy for it to stay that way. This is a great critique on technology being too relied on in society and the dangers that come from having so much information available and spending too much time in a virtual world instead of a real one. The action that takes place within the game and the mystery surrounding The Company and the Otherworld really drew me in. However, the romance wasn’t so great and I just didn’t really care about it and the story itself isn’t really that fresh or new, especially if you’ve read Ready Player One.

If you have read Ready Player One, this won’t be anything new to you. There is a VR game, our main character spends a lot of time there desperately trying to beat the game in order to finally be with the girl he loves. The world building in regards to the game is a bit similar, but much more nefarious and there is also an irl mystery going on, which kept the book moving, but did keep getting bigger and bigger and it was starting to test the suspension of disbelief a tad. Like, being faced with what humans would do when they’re living a virtual reality as opposed to real life is a big enough concept, but then there was also a conspiracy with the Company and the mystery surrounding all the people from the same town with the same rare medical needs, there’s so much going on with this book!

The adventure and the world building were amazing. Literally you can’t even pause for breath because the story whizzes along – its not really a book you can get bored of in that sense. It does fall short with the characters and the narration though. Because its not a character lead story, you don’t really get to connect with them. Simon is our protagonist, but I literally couldn’t tell you anything about him personality wise and I certainly didn’t care much for him. The same with Kat, I barely knew her, so I wasn’t that fussed about the romance or really understood why Simon was so motivated by her. Especially because come the beginning of the book, Simon has just returned from several months away at boarding school, during which time, Kat has stopped talking to him for reasons that were completely unknown for the majority of the book and don’t really make that much sense when they’re revealed. We’re also told in the first chapter that Simon has been been expelled from school and is on an FBI list because his room mate used his computer to do a spot of hacking, something that Simon took the blame for… Though why anyone would take the blame for something that serious, I’m not entirely sure. Why, considering this information, he was allowed early access to Otherworld is also a bit lost on me… It was kind of hard to understand his motivations at times. Most of the story’s big questions get answered in literally the last three chapters, this is a series so I’m guessing all the finer points will be ironed out later, but I did spend most of the book being like, come on, why was Kat a target? How does it make financial sense for The Company to be doing this? And so on. Also some of the reveals were a bit on the convenient side, so I’m hoping for a plot twist in later books.

Look, I said I had a lot of thoughts, it’s difficult when you enjoyed a book but also see problems with it. Basically, I liked this, it has a lot of good stuff going for it, but some of the pacing is weird and the characters aren’t that fleshed out. It reminded me a bit of the Death Runner series in that sense, lots of action, not enough character building. Also, and I swear this is the last thing I’ll mention that annoyed me, there is a moment really early on where Simon overhears two girls trash talking Kat, so he mansplains feminism and slut shaming to them and then hacks their phones and threatens to release their nudes. Like brah? You have not grasped the fundamentals of not slut shaming.

Anyway, Otherworld was a riot, thanks to Netgalley for the hook up and I’m interested to see where this will be going.

 

Secrets for the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons

Secrets of the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons – Dodie Clark

Right, let’s get this out of the way, Dodie Clark (or doddleoddle or just dodie as she is also known, no caps makes you super edgy online as my twitter follwers will attest) is a musician and YouTuber. She posts original songs, usually accompanied by a ukulele and more recently, she’s been making videos documenting her experiences with Derealisation and now she’s written a book about that experience. Having dealt with mental health issues myself, I am always interested to read more about how other people work though their struggles, which is why I was so interested to get a hold of this.

When I feel like I’m going mad I write.
A lot of my worst fears have come true; fears that felt so big I could barely hold them in my head. I was convinced that when they’d happen, the world would end.
But the world didn’t end. In fact, it pushed on and demanded to keep spinning through all sorts of mayhem, and I got through it. And because I persisted, I learned lessons about how to be a stronger, kinder, better human – lessons you can only learn by going through these sorts of things.
This is for the people with minds that just don’t stop; for those who feel everything seemingly a thousand times more than the people around them.
Here are some words I wrote.

So given that we’re all aware that we’re supposed to dislike books by YouTubers and given that I have mixed thoughts about the few books I’ve read that happened to have been written by YouTubers, what did I think of this?

Well…
The editor’s letter at the beginning of this mentions Sylvia Plath and I eye rolled so hard it hurt. I love Sylvia Plath and I hate when people are like ‘ohh like I’m cool and edgy, like Sylvia Plath’. Trust me, I have met people who genuinely say things like this.  So, even though I was interested to read this, that one sentence had me backing away slowly. But then I pulled myself together and skipped through to the only words that matter, the ones Dodie put in there and by god. If you were put off reading this because of the whole she’s a YouTuber, this is a way for publishers to make money off of her millions of young subscribers then push that thought out of your head. This isn’t Sylvia Plath, but it is, for the most part, beautiful and heart breaking and warm and endearing. Dodie writes in such an unflinchingly honest way about her experiences with mental health, emotional abuse and well… life, its refreshing and captivating.

The reason I was so interested to read this was, as I said, because I am interested in how people cope with their mental health, though this book is also about life lessons and observations, the opening chapters do deal with Dodie’s mental health experiences and the way she writes about it is captivating. As is the advice she gives about obsessions, growing up and love. Though there were times when I was left wondering who the intended audience was, some of the pages were written in a way that transcends age, others were clearly twenty something to twenty something and some spoke to the younger audience that I know Dodie has. In one way this is a plus, people of all ages can read and enjoy this book, in another I’m worried about how it will be marketed, I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on what is a solid read because no one is sure who to sell it to.

Despite only being in her early twenties, this was a great memoir. Normally I’d be like, live a little first, but honestly, there was more than enough material here to keep me engaged and essay like anecdotes were interspersed with song lyrics, journal entries, submissions from people who know Dodie well,  doodles and photographs – i had an egalley of this but the paper/hard back would be a much better reading experience and would allow you to better understand the stories the doodles, journal clippings and selected photos tell.

Also I feel there needs to be a special mention for the dedication at the beginning because it was hilarious.

All in all, though I wouldnt say this book was perfect and there were some moments that were stronger than others, this was a thoughtful, endearing memoir and though I really want to make a 6/10 reference, I think it deserves more than that!

Yuki means happiness

Yuki Means Happiness – Alison Jean Lester

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Japan before?
Well… I love Japan. I’ve never been there but I find the whole culture and history of Japan fascinating, I think its because it is so far removed from what life is like in the UK and the fact that they’re so good at making manga and anime and sweets. Also mochi. The food of the Gods. Anyway, because I love Japan so much, I love reading books set there, which is, combined with the cover, why I chose to request this when it was available for review, so thank you Bookbridgr for sending me a copy!

Diana is young and uneasy in a new relationship when she leaves America and moves halfway around the world to Tokyo seeking adventure. In Japan she takes a job as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura and sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking.
But as Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step of the way. 
Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self.

So this is the story of Diana, who after spending time qualifying to be a nurse and falling into a relationship with Porter is offered a job in Japan as a nanny for a baby she helped care for at the time of her birth and as she has no idea who she is or what she’s doing with her life and is terrified of the intimacy that a relationship entails, she moves to Japan. What follows is a journey of self discovery alongside a beautiful friendship with the three year old in her care. There is also a bit of family drama and a hint of child abuse to help keep up the tension.

When I started reading this I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with it, the narration was very odd, but it was concise and I think it summed up Diana’s character really well. It also created a beautiful picture of Japan and gave a real insight into the culture, and even though we are aware that the situation is an unusual one, I felt like I learned a lot about the setting, I want to read as many things about Japan as possible – send me recs!

Also, can we talk about that cover? The cover is beautiful!

Everything We Keep and Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Keep and Everything We Left Behind – Kerry Lonsdale.

You might have noticed that pretty much everything I’ve been posting recently is reviews, that’s because I’ve had a backlog of ARCS building up and I’m finally getting around to reading them all, so I figured as these two are part of the same series, I’d do them at the same time! As Everything We Left Behind was scheduled for release, the publisher was kind enough to send me both books so I could catch up.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.
As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.
 

So, Everything We Keep begins at James’ funeral, on what should have been Aimee’s wedding day and the book then follows the next year of her life as she tries to pick up the pieces and move on. She makes new friends, starts a new career, but she can’t seem to shake James, told through a series of flashbacks to her and James’ lives together and the present, we learn about his dysfunctional family and eventually that she was right to have questions about his disappearance.
Though this book has a few twists and turns and enough intriguing moments to keep you interested, there does seem to be a a lot of big subjects being thrown around in an almost flippant manner. One character is assumed to have disassociated fugue, yet there isn’t much gravity given to what comes across to me as being a big deal.
It’s much more of a character driven book than plot driven, with the story being second fiddle to Aimee and her supporting cast. Its a very long winded, winding story about Aimee trying to rebuild her life and get over James. There isn’t much drama, but sometimes, it’s nice to read something that meanders and lets you have time to process.

The second book picks up precisely where the first one left off, and this one follows more of Carlos’ story and ties up some loose ends involving various characters and mysteries from the first book it also features a lot of flash backs to fill in the blanks and we learn a lot more about what happened to James. I would leave the blurb here, but spoilers! This is a ‘true sequel’ you literally can’t read this without having read the first book.

This was told in much the same way and again dealt with large subjects without much gravity. Again this was character driven and they plodded along nicely. Everything We Left Behind alternates between Carlos and James, telling the whole story through flashbacks and present day. Like the first book, there is a lot of dramatic events unfolding without much actual drama or urgency.

If you’re a fan of soap operas, you’ll love these books. There are gripping stories, but some of the moments veer on the outlandish and wouldn’t be out of place in Eastenders. (Has the whole split personality thought I was dead but I’m not thing been done on there before? I think it has!) I think these two books would be perfect holiday companions, they’re the sort of thing you could lose yourself in whilst being sat by a pool or beach.

I would say that I would rather there were a bit of a cover redesign, they’re both fine covers, but they don’t match the story all that well, particularly the first one. The two girls aren’t even the same!