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.

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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.

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!

Things I Should have known

Things I should have known – Claire LaZebnik

I feel like I inhaled this! It helped that I was left alone on a sunny Saturday and had nothing to do but sit in the breeze and read this! So what we have here, is a fun, engaging, easy read about teenagers and high school romances with a difference, because it also has characters on the autism spectrum and idk about you, but I haven’t come across many books about kids on the autism spectrum.

Things Chloe knew: Her sister, Ivy, was lonely. Ethan was a perfect match. Ethan’s brother, David, was an arrogant jerk.
Things Chloe should have known: Setups are complicated. Ivy can make her own decisions. David may be the only person who really gets Chloe.
Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.
Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own, so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen-yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

So the thing is, the bare bones of this is about kids dealing with stuff, and what is a YA novel if not a book about kids dealing with stuff. I’ll start with our narrator, Chloe. Chloe’s older sister Ivy, is autistic, so she kind of has to parent her a bit, add to this mix the fact that her dad died of cancer and her mum has remarried someone that although means well, Chloe isn’t all that keen on. Despite this, Chloe is sociable and fairly happy with her high school life, she has lots of friends, gets good grades and has a super cute athletic boyfriend, all the standard teen drama stuff. The story really kicks off when Ivy sees Chloe with her boyfriend and comments that she’ll never have a boyfriend which makes Chloe decide to play matchmaker by sizing up the other kids in Ivy’s class at a school for teens with special needs and picking one at random, who just happens to be the younger brother of one of her classmates. Who she doesn’t like. Do you see where I’m going with this?
David and Ethan’s story is equally as interesting even without the added dimension of Ethan and Ivy seeing the world differently. They live in a world where their parents are living separate lives which barely involve either of them and their new step mother in particular has difficulty accepting Ethan.
While there are some aspects of this story that are a tad predictable, of course Chloe is going to form a special bond with the guy she’s hated this whole time, of course there is going to be bumps in the road of her match making, there is a lot to like about this book, namely the fact that it deals with autism and it deals with LGBTQA+ aspects of autism.

The only other book I’ve read with a similar character to that of Ivy and Ethan is the Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is a great book, if you’ve not read it before, but this is the first one I’ve come across featuring autistic teenagers trying to navigate dating and socialising. Slight disclaimer – I don’t know many people with autism, so I don’t know if they would have a different opinion on how well Ivy and Ethan are portrayed and I would love to hear their thoughts on this book, but for me, I thought it was well done and about time that characters like Ivy and Ethan were featured in books and on TV. It was also great seeing Chloe and watching how protective and caring she is and how she reconciles how frustrated she gets with Ivy and the situation and the guilt that follows. I just feel that now having finished it, that this book was so heartwarming and well presented and I want to see more stories like this.

Windfall

Windfall – Jennifer E Smith

If you’ve stumbled across this blog before and any other reviews I’ve done for books by Jennifer E Smith there may be a touch of repetition involved here, sorry not sorry. The thing is, I LOVE Jennifer E Smith’s writing style, I love her stories, they are cute, fluffy balls of YA goodness and lets be honest, everyone loves a comforting romance story now and again and she is the queen of comforting, cute, fluffy, YA romances.

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.
As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined… and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

Much like I said before and in literally every other review of Smith’s books I’ve done before, (she isn’t a relative. At least I don’t think so… Anyway, the point is that there is no bias here.) I might have to reel in the fangirling and much like her other books, this is similarly a romance between two teenagers facing a bit of adversity with some fluff thrown in for good measure.
This time around, we have troubled teens Alice and Teddy. Alice, an orphan who has been living with her aunt and uncle and cousin, Leo, for the past nine years during which time, she has befriended and subsequently fallen for her best friend, Teddy. Who, in typical Smith fashion, has his own baggage. He is currently living in a cramped one bed apartment with his mum following his dad abandoning the pair of them with huge gambling debts.
The story begins on Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Leo and Alice both buy him gifts that can only be legally used by eighteen year olds, a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket and that lottery ticket, well. That’s when the excitement begins.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am attempting to keep the inner fangirl under wraps. I don’t know how much I am able to express how much I love this woman’s books BUT as much as I enjoyed this, I have to be honest, it isn’t my favourite of hers (I think This is What Happy Looks Like will always hold that title), but don’t let that put you off, this had so much going for it. The teen romance and angst is there and the connection between Alice and Teddy is slow building and then there is the added drama of being a high school kid with nothing suddenly getting a ridiculous amount of money and how they handle that situation. Storywise, there is a lot going on here and in some ways, Windfall has a bit more substance than some of her previous stories, because of the different elements being presented, I guess, there just isn’t as much fluff as usual and I do love me some Jennifer E Smith fluff. So if like me, you love the cute romances of This is What Happy Looks Like or The Geography of Me and You, then be warned that Windfall isn’t on the same level.

Windfall had a lot of serious issues that were dealt with well, survivor’s guilt, death, coming into money and trying to process what to do with it, plus there was the whole unrequited love with your best friend thing…. These three main characters had a really wonderfully written friendship, I love stories about friendship and watching relationships blossom and Jennifer E Smith does these so well!

Basically, I love this woman, I love her books, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be but I enjoyed it anyway, so check it out! Windfall is published at the start of May, so keep a look out!

The Cows

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

For serious though, did anyone expect me to just ignore the opportunity to read Dawn O’Porter’s new book? I loved Paper Aeroplanes SO MUCH and just look at this, just look at the blurb and tell me you aren’t excited? Honestly, the first paragraph was pretty much enough to have me flicking through pages joyously.

COW n.
/ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
Women don’t have to fall into a stereotypes
THE COWS is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.
It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Have you, like me, been endlessly searching for some good old women’s fiction with feminist undertones? Yes? Well, hold on to your hats cos I think this might be it. I mean, there are moments in this that are a bit… Over the top, but overall this was a well written, topical novel that has feminist themes and enforces the idea that all women are worthy and equal, not just to men, but to each other, in a way that isn’t hard going or text book like.

The Cows presents us with three very different women (one of whom is a blogger, like a super successful one, not someone needlessly shouting into the void like myself) all of whom are struggling with society’s ideas of what their lives should be like based on their gender. We have Tara, the working single mum, who has to deal with being in a male dominated work environment constantly being made to feel guilty about the fact that she has a child to look after and then there’s her daughter, who also makes her feel guilty about wanting to have and enjoying her career, who has an unconsensual video taking of her and how that affects her life. We have Cam, the aforementioned blogger, who has to deal with disdain from her sisters and her mother because her life dream isn’t to settle down and have children but to have experiences and relationships with lots of different people on her own terms and then we have Stella mourning the loss of her sister, desperately wanting to retain her femininity and settle down with a child.

At its core, this is a story about women fighting for things they want and along the way our three main characters have to deal with viral videos, online trolls, relationships with friends, family and lovers and the need for people to be individual and accepting of everyone. It questions feminism and equality by showing deep rooted prejudices, Tara regularly finds herself being put down by the men she works with and then realises that she does this to other women, feeling herself above them without knowing anything about their lives. Cam similarly likes to talk a good game about being a feminist, but inadvertently offends those with different views to her.

The Cows is an addictive, fast paced read that doesn’t hold back on its message. There are a lot of subjects people might find taboo, abortions, sex, periods, that sort of thing and if you are one of those people, probably one to avoid, but if not – you need to grab yourself a copy of this asap.

The Cows is out on 6th April, so get yourself to a book shop!