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!

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Gather the Daughters

Gather the Daughter – Jennie Melamed

The lovely people of Bookbridgr sent me a gorgeous hardcover of this (seriously the dust jacket is beautiful) right around the time that the Handmaid’s Tale was wrapping up, it’s almost like they knew I would be hunting for something to fill the Offred sized hole that was left behind and this book, dear God this book. It, as the kids say, left me SHOOK.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

Honestly, I’m a bit lost as to where to begin with this. It was as hard to read as it was to put down.
That doesn’t explain a lot, does it?
Sorry, let’s try again.

This book reminded me of lots of other things, but at the same time it was so original. What we have is a cult like community where the patriarchy rules, each family is given their own profession, couples are paired up and allowed two children and when they become too old to be useful, they are put out to pasture. They are confined to their island and are not told anything of the world outside, much like The Giver, which is one of my faves. The only freedom allowed is for those considered children, every summer they’re allowed to live as though feral, in an almost Lord of the Flies kind of way. The adults remain inside and those girls unfortunate enough to start menstruating have to do their summer of fruition, which, like in Only Ever Yours, is when they’re gathered up and presented to a group of single men to be picked and matched up. By winter they’re likely married and pregnant and the cycle continues. In this society the birth of a boy brings celebration, the birth of a girl brings sorrow for before the girls belong to their husbands they belong to their fathers. Yes that sentence is heaped with innuendo and here’s the part where I chuck you some trigger warnings. This is a society where child molestation and sexual assault are not only normal but are insisted upon. There is also a character with an eating disorder, just fyi.

The story is told from the point of view of four girls aged between 17 and 13 living in this society and one of them sees something they’re not supposed to which throws this whole community into turmoil. Now you can see why it was so hard to read, these girls’ lives are horrific but Jennie Melamed tells it with such subtlety that it creeps its way into your subconscious and haunts you. Her author profile tells me that she’s a psychologist that works with abused children and you can tell that she’s someone who understands the sensitivities and employs them with care. A lot of the incidents in this book are inferred, nothing is gratuitous. The bio also tells me that she owns three shiba inu’s and frankly, that’s brilliant.

Gather the Daughters is a wonderful and horrific book (can that be possible?) that should be a must for anyone who’s into their dystopians or is interested in reading more about cults.

Here’s another thing, this hasn’t been done in a while, but this was so good it gets a Nick Fury Seal of approval.

ARC haul, the reading passport, being a proud big sister? A book video in three parts

Yeah, I’m still doing that YouTube thing even though Dan Howell still doesn’t know I exist and I still don’t have enough subs to get into the YouTube space, but the YouTube thing is fun! And sometimes my love of books bleeds into life over on my channel, so one post spread across two social networks I guess!

Welcome to A book video in three parts:
Part one, a little round up of the arcs I’ve been sent recently, they’re probably the last ones I’ll get this year and a couple of them have appeared here before, but you know!
Part two, the reading passport, a new initiative happening at a couple of my local libraries that I thought was super cool and wanted to share, plus the books I picked up while I was there!
Part three, borrowing a book from my little brother who hated books when he was younger and now loves them and the proud big sister feels I have about that fact!

If you’ve read any of these, plan to read any of these or like the sound of any of these you should let me know so we can discuss! (also, *takes deep breath and prepares for the Philly D spiel* if you liked that video and you like what I do on that channel hit that like button and if you’ve not visited me over on YouTube before hit that subscribe button).  If any of ya’ll live near a library taking part in the reading passport, hit me up so we can discuss which books we’ve picked up and how many stamps we’ve earned!

When the floods came

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When the Floods Came – Clare Morrall

First things first I’mma eat your brains – wait, that’s Nicki, I’m not gonna do that… First things first I’m going to thank Bookbridgr and Hodder and Staughton books for sending this to me. Second I’m going to draw your attention to how pretty this cover is and third, I’m going to tell you all about this book cos reading it was a bit of an adventure. Also the posting of this was kinda appropriate cos Storm Angus was raging and my local Asda got flooded just when I needed a lightbulb.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?

So basic premise, in what is one of the more believable dystopian futures, the earth has been ravished by extreme weather and a horrible disease which has wiped out almost everyone, apart from the anti social and the immune, Roza and her family are immune and are pretty much the only people left alive in Birmingham after most of the rest of the UK decided to move to Brighton. I don’t blame them, Brighton is wonderful! Though there is a serious lack of affordable housing, so I hope that in this dystopian future there was a bit more housing to go around. Anyway, Roza and her family hang out in Birmingham avoiding the awful weather, being suspicious whenever they cross paths with another human and working from home using whats left of the internet, which apparently can continue without the aid of engineers or people in IT. She also spends her time skyping a chap called Hector who lives in Brighton and who she intends to marry (they met online, its like Tinder but way more serious) because the disease wiped out almost everyone and very few fertile people are left so marrying random people you meet on the internet and procreating with them is pretty much the only way the humans can continue to exist. The government insist on it actually. This fact, as alluded to in the blurb, is also the reason why so many children do keep disappearing and why Roza’s parents are so right to be wary of any other people they come across.

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Indeed they are Nick Miller. Indeed they are. Especially child stealing ones. Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was a believable dystopia, if there is such a thing, but it was also a great story. There was a lot of intricate world building which is always welcome when describing a futuristic world where things have gone horribly wrong. My only real beef (or tofu for the non meat eaters out there) with the narration is that there was a tendency for the story to go off on a tangent and meander its way back to the original point, by which time I was like, wait… why was that important again?
This was definitely a slow burner, but its one of those delicious ones that you don’t mind waiting for because the scenic route is just so nicely done. Usually when you read a futuristic dystopia its all ACTION ACTION ACTION like Bruce Willis might as well be wearing a vest, packing weapons and reading the whole thing to you very loudly, this was much softer, it allowed you to get really immersed and the meandering nature of the narration allowed me to get to know Roza and her family and the world in which they’ve found themselves before the intensity of the story really began. I think the pacing is one of the key things about this book that made it so enjoyable, dystopias are usually so intense, so it was nice to be eased in gently with this.

I don’t know if its just because the protagonist is called Roza, but I pictured Aashay to look like Pimento from Brooklyn 99…

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Overall, this is an interesting and imaginative story, though similar in places to Children of Men, and is very well executed. The main thing for me with this was that this was completely viable! Without wanting to get preachy or political, the weather is getting a tad cray on this planet and its all down to the way we look after it and honestly, who is to say that random extreme weather patterns won’t at some point in the future cause the mass of destruction seen in this book? How do we know that weird mutated viruses won’t decimate the planet?!

Wow, what a cheery note to end on….

Hot Feminist

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Hot Feminist – Polly Vernon

I really wanted to start reading more about topics that interest me, like gender politics and feminism. Especially because I consider myself a feminist, but very rarely read academic or non fiction texts about feminism. Also because declaring that you’re a feminist on the internet scares the crap out of me, so I would like to be able to get to a point where I am so well read on the subject that I can do it with confidence and take down all the fools who dare question it. Because if you believe that feminism is a hatred of men rather than a vision of equality for everyone no matter what your gender is (which extends to those of many, non specific and transgenders as well as people of multiple races and creeds) then you probably are a bit of a fool. So, I grabbed this when I saw it advertised on bookbridgr (thanks guys for sending it to me) it’s just a shame that this wasn’t the feminist experience I was looking for.

Hot (adj.) : (Of a person) Attractive ‘a hot chick’
Fem-i-n-ist (n.) : A person who supports feminism, the movement that advocates equal rights for women
Polly Vernon, Grazia columnist, Times feature writer (hair-flicker, Brazilian-waxer, jeans obsessive, outrageous flirt) presents a brave new perspective on feminism.
Drawing on her dedicated, life-long pursuit of hotness – having dismissed many of the rules on ‘good’ feminism at some point in the early 90s – she’ll teach you everything you ever wanted to know about being a feminist when you care about how you look. When part of your brain is constantly monologuing on fashion. When you check out your own reflection in every reflective surface. When your depilation practices are pretty much out of control. When you just really want to be fancied.
Hot Feminist is based on a principle of non-judgment (because there’s enough already), honesty about how often we mess this up, and empowerment through looks. Part memoir, part road map, it’s a rolling, raucous rejection of all those things we’re convinced we shouldn’t think / wear/ feel/ say/ buy/ want – and a celebration of all the things we can.
It is modern feminism, with style, without judgment.

Is it modern feminism though? Because like, I always understood that feminism meant equality for all genders and that the point of it was to stop the disrespect associated with ‘feminine’ traits etc. I didn’t realise that people actually found it difficult to enjoy femininity and also be a feminist. Like, if you’re into make up, wear it. Who gives a crap? Are you a guy? Are you a girl? Are you another gender entirely? You think eyeliner makes your eyes poppin’ and you want them to look hella good while also being a pro at your job and stuff – you go for it.  Here’s an example in the form of a story. A little while ago the band Twenty One Pilots performed on TV, one of them, Tyler, wore a long coat and a pair of shorts.  At the end of the performance, Sacha Baron Cohen, who was in character to promote his film, Grimsby (for those that don’t know, he rarely appears at anything as his actual self) criticised Tyler for wearing a dress. People laughed. Yes, it was a joke, all done in jest presumably showing that Sacha Baron Cohen is actually taking the piss out of ignorant people, either way, the fact that someone identifying as a man apparently wearing a dress is funny in any way is exactly why we all need feminism, its not just about women. Apparently though, the idea of enjoying femininity whilst being a feminist is something that troubles Polly Vernon as this entire book is basically her very patronisingly explaining that she likes men, high heels and red lipstick, but she also cares about equality. Like… yeah, fine, but there are many more wider issues that can be discussed here.

Its a shame that the book’s content is so infuriating, because Polly is actually a very witty and engaging writer, even if she does come across as being a little self absorbed at times. To me, this book was just very oversimplified and didn’t really grasp any of the main concepts of feminism and what the movement is striving for as far as I understand it. Yes, it is important that people feel that they can aspire to be conventionally attractive and still care about feminism, but did this idea really need to go on for 364 pages?
There is a major issue with people tearing other people (mostly women) down for wanting to look pretty and trying to attract the attention of men, to me, anyone who claims to be a feminist whilst judging others for the way they live their lives, is someone who does not understand feminism. We should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down, so I do think books like this spread an important message because Polly does explain that feminism isn’t about hating men, or hating girls who want to pretty themselves up for the men in their lives – good, this is something that most feminist texts I’ve read seem to forget. For me, it’s just a shame there isn’t really much else in the book. I came out of it just really wanting there to be more discussion and more topics that come under the umbrella of feminism. A lot of the book read like an issue of Cosmo, there were lots of fashion tips and things like that, which is fine, but I wanted so much more.

I just think being part of the tumblr generation and being into non judgemental equality, (I am one of those annoying people that gives themselves anxiety because they check their privilege at like every single moment of the day) many of the things that Polly was saying weren’t new or revolutionary to me, because seriously, you can dress however you want and behave however you want without judgement. As long as you aren’t breaking the law or causing actual physical harm to other people, you do you. You identify as male and want to wear a dress, you rock the hell out of it, you identify as female and you want to wear make up but also talk about astrophysics, go for it. You identify as a different gender and want to incorporate traits of both in the way you dress, then you do it and you like fly as hell. That to me is sort of the point of feminism. Not judging people or treating them any more or less than anyone else.

Regardless, if you like fashion, lifestyle books and Cailtin Moran style prose, then check this out, just don’t go looking for serious discussions on feminism because you won’t find it here.

Jakob’s Colours

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Jakob’s Colours – Lindsay Hawdon

I pretty much fell in love with the way this was written within the first three pages. I was sent this by the lovely people at Hodder and Stoughton via Bookbridgr and I wish I’d had it in time for Holocaust Memorial Day because this is a remarkable story about an often forgotten group of people affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust.

This heartbreaking and tender novel will appeal to readers who loved Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s Ark, and The Book Thief. Austria, 1944: Jakob, a gypsy boy—half Roma, half Yenish— runs, as he has been told to do. With shoes of sack cloth, still bloodstained with another’s blood, a stone clutched in one hand, a small wooden box in the other. He runs blindly, full of fear, empty of hope. For hope lies behind him in a green field with a tree that stands shaped like a Y. He knows how to read the land, the sky. When to seek shelter, when not. He has grown up directing himself with the wind and the shadows. They are familiar to him. It is the loneliness that is not. He has never, until this time, been so alone. “Don’t be afraid, Jakob,” his father has told him, his voice weak and wavering. “See the colors, my boy,” he has whispered. So he does. Rusted ochre from a mossy bough. Steely white from the sap of the youngest tree. On and on, Jakob runs. Spanning from one world war to another, taking us across England, Switzerland, and Austria, Jakob’s Colours is about the painful legacies passed down from one generation to another, finding hope where there is no hope, and colour where there is no colour.

Jakob’s Colours is not like anything I’ve ever read before. I like reading historical fiction, but no matter how well written historical fiction is, it is always a little bit drab, a bit dull. I always find reading historical fiction to be a lot like looking at old photos from the seventies, you know the ones. The ones that are all sepia and browning. This was not sepia, this was a rainbow, it isn’t called Jakob’s Colours for nothing. It is a deliciously rich, poetic story about one family and their attempt to escape the horrors of Europe during the Nazi regime. It was also unlike anything I’ve ever read before because usually when you come across a book about forties Europe it is usually the plight of Jewish protagonists, which of course is an important story to tell, but I’ve never found a book that deals with the other victims of Hitler’s insanity.

This is a non linear narrative following Jakob,  an eight year old boy of Romani descent running for his life across Europe, he has been separated from his family and all he can do is as his father told him, to run and to see the colours in the world. The story jumps from Jakob in the present to his mother and father in the past and culminates in how they ended up being separated and what it is that Jakob is running from. The whole thing is told in a wonderfully whimsical and poetic way, it’s decadently descriptive. Lindsay Hawdon writes the way I image a painter would create a picture, there are colour splashes all across the story, you see as Jakob sees, the oranges of the trees and the blues of the sky. It is a juxtaposition of beautiful story telling and a brutal story.

I haven’t done this in a while, but I think this deserves the Nick Fury Seal of Approval.

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Hello, Goodbye and Everything in between

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Hello, goodbye and everything in between – Jennifer E Smith

You know what, I could have really done with this book about eight years ago (has it really been that long? god I am old!) when I first left home for university and had to deal with saying goodbye to everything that was familiar and safe and all the people that went along with it.

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan only have one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they’ll retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night will lead them to friends and family, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

Firstly, I bloody love Jennifer E Smith books, so thank you bookbridgr for sending me a copy of her latest! I know they get a bit of criticism for being about straight couples doing cute straight couple things, but there’s nothing wrong with indulging yourself in a bit of light hearted, fluffy romance every now and again. Hello is no different to her previous books, we have a story spanning one night (something that Jennifer E Smith does very well is entire novels set over the course of one night or a few days) while two teenagers decide whether or not to call time on their two year relationship the night before the embark on separate schools thousands of miles apart or to stay together and try the long distance thing.

Jennifer E Smith has found a formula that works really well, she is the queen of cute relationships, there is banter and intimacy and honestly, every single on of her books is a bit like looking at a box of kittens, it just makes your heart contract in a very peculiar way. Literally, every single one of her books is just the embodiment of the relationship goals hashtag that I use (ironically of course) on Twitter. This is just a story about deciding the future of a teenage relationship, this is also a story about moving on, growing up, having independence thrust upon you, change and of course, having to say goodbye. Clare and Aiden don’t just have to figure out what to do with their relationship, but also what they’re going to do with their friends, their parents, their entire lives now that everything is different.The relationship side of it wasn’t all teenage and ridiculous either, I know, being that I am nearly 27, that I get a bit frustrated reading YA romance sometimes because I just want to shake the couples and be like, ‘seriously? you are fifteen!’ but this had a couple that really thought about themselves as individuals, as well as a unit, it debated whether they were mr and mrs right or mr and mrs right now, there was a lot of discussion about relationships in general and how to navigate being yourself while being with someone else.

I think one of the main reasons why I flew through this so quickly was that it  made me a bit nostalgic for that last summer between sixth form and university where it was all fun and games and underage drinking and then suddenly we were all packed into our cars and being driven to different points on a map not knowing what life was going to be like the next day or whether we would ever even see each other again once our first terms have ended. It’s a scary time and I remember really wanting to have a book or a film or something that would help me deal with that situation. Then, along came High School Musical 3 (which objectively is the best of the trilogy), a book called Roomies and this, they were all a little late for me having to deal with leaving behind everything and everyone that was familiar while I embarked on the next stage of my life, but they are here now and they’ll probably help someone.

Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between is adorable, quite frankly, it’s an easy read, but one that deals with very real thoughts and feelings and one that I would highly recommend. Even if you’re not heading off to university/college/whatever, even if you aren’t about to leave your loved ones for a prolonged period of time, even if you have a heart of stone, I think you should give this and a few of her other novels a read. Like I said, everyone needs a bit of light hearted and fluffy romance every now and again. Also look at that cover, that cover is amazing. I for one am quite pleased to have that one my shelf!